Fear of fentanyl-laced heroin caused investigators probing two major heroin rings dismantled Thursday to stop field-testing the heroin their informants bought for them.
“Airborne fentanyl could prove fatal to investigators,” said a warning from the state attorney general’s office, according to the arrest affidavits in the case.
Fentanyl is a powerful prescription pain reliever that some dealers mix with heroin to enhance its potency, said Detective Sgt. Timothy J. Harding, head of the city police narcotics unit.
“It makes it a much stronger product,” Detective Sgt. Harding said, adding that he hasn’t seen any deaths related to fentanyl-laced heroin in Scranton. “Heroin isn’t manufactured under laboratory conditions, so these guys aren’t always adhering to strict conditions.”
Police field-test heroin after buys to make sure the drug is real, in order to establish probable cause for search warrants and arrests. The lack of testing did not deter the investigation, Detective Sgt. Harding said.
He said junkies told police some of the heroin being sold by ring members was laced with fentanyl.
Alerts were also coming during the summer from the state Department of Health about batches of fentanyl-laced heroin coming out of Chicago and Harrisburg, said Anthony F. Pero, clinical director at Drug and Alcohol Treatment Service Inc., the nonprofit organization that treats Lackawanna County addicts. He said it was important for clients to be warned, but wondered if they got the message.
“It’s almost like there’s a loss of fear of danger with people with chemical dependency,” Mr. Pero said. “Most of our patients think they’re unique and nothing’s going to happen to them. ... This disease kills. It’s that simple.”