Police fear heroin's growing potency
EAST PROVIDENCE — Various reports on the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman due to a heroin overdose noted what seemed to be an exorbitant number of used and unused bags of the drug found by investigators in his New York City apartment. However, that quantity, according to law enforcement personnel, shouldn't come as a surprise. It takes large amounts of heroin for addicts to reach a high.
"If you're doing two or three grams a day, that's between 100 and 150 bags. It just goes to show the amount of tolerance addicts have built up over years of use. The more you do it, you have to take more and more of it to get off," said East Providence Police Vice Sergeant Diogo Mello.
Recently, Sgt. Mello and others who are keenly aware of the emerging heroin epidemic locally and nationally, have seen the amount of the drug leading to overdoses is falling, likely meaning the potency of the drug is getting stronger.
"We found out four of the people OD'd on just .25 grams. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) is being very aggressive in trying to find out what this latest batch of heroin is being cut with. They're expediting the testing process. We've submitted a lot of what we've seized for analysis."
Sgt. Mello hypothesizes the presence of fentanyl, a high-powered painkiller given to cancer patients, may be the key agent being "cut" or mixed in with heroin.
"We know that 'super labs' in Mexico have used fentanyl, but we're not sure," he added. "It's a painkiller that's 60 times more powerful than heroin alone, and it could be one of the reasons why the stuff out there is so strong."
The quest to get the money and the product necessary to feed a heroin addiction has several ancillary effects as well, reaching deep into communities.
"You're talking about a $1,400, $1,500 a week habit. And that leads to other crimes, like B&Es, shoplifting. It's really bad," said Sgt. Mello.
Editor's note: This is the second in a week-long look at the growing heroin epidemic gripping East Providence, the state and the nation. Read part one here.
Part Three, Wednesday, drugs and terminology