KILLER HEROIN FEARED IN OVERDOSE DEATHS VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Police are warning drug users that a killer batch of heroin may be circulating after one of the worst weekends for fatal overdoses in years. Although police will have to wait weeks for toxicology tests to know for sure, a sudden spike in overdose deaths, which otherwise have shown a consistent decline in the past decade, suggests either the drug is unusually potent or laced with a toxin, Constable Anne Drennan said yesterday. "It's unusual to have three deaths in a weekend, and it raises a red flag," Constable Drennan said. Within a 48-hour period on Saturday and Sunday, one 30-year-old man and one 30-year-old woman in the Downtown Eastside, as well as one man in his 20s in southeast Vancouver, all died, she said. There was nothing in common in their situations besides heroin use, Constable Drennan said. "We're putting out a warning that the possibility is that the heroin on the streets is bad," she said. "Consider, if you can, going to the safe injection site for assistance when anything is wrong." Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users says addicts she knows have been aware of more potent heroin for about 10 weeks. "We've been losing three or four members of VANDU a week for the past weeks," she said. "It's a tragedy. "One of the real horrors about this is that once the word gets out in the papers that the heroin is pure, it acts like an advertisement for pure heroin. Sometimes it can cause a lot more people to use it. It's like marketing." Cocaine's price is rising while heroin is getting cheaper and more pure, and these factors may be a darkly capitalistic scheme to recruit addicts, she said. "When the price goes down, they get more addicts," she said. "Whoever's doing this is going to make a huge profit because they are going to have a lot more customers. "When the price goes up, [the addicts] all have to go on methadone, and they see a lot more desperation." About 650 injections a day take place at Vancouver's safe-injection site, and the city has about 5,000 addicts who inject about three times a day, she said. Viviana Zanocco of Vancouver Coastal Health, which administers the safe-injection site on East Hastings Street, said it is illegal for staff at the site to test heroin for safety. But, having someone nearby vastly increases the chance a person who has taken an overdose will survive, she said. Staff have medical equipment to administer oxygen and narcan, which blocks opiates in the body and can save a life. The B.C. Coroner's Service has tracked illicit drug deaths in the province since 1997. There were 64 deaths last year, up from 50 in 2003, but down from a high of 191 deaths in 1999. It's unlikely the three who died got their drugs from the same dealer, Constable Drennan said.