Emergency workers see evidence of Naloxone-resistant heroin in Rochester
Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Emergency workers say there is evidence that heroin laced with a synthetic additive which led to a spike in deaths in Chicago and Pittsburgh may have made its way to the Rochester area.
"It's a synthetic, not a natural opioid so it can be nasty," said Chief Matt Comer of Greece Volunteer Ambulance.
It also prevents overdose drugs from working.
Naloxone - sold under the brand name Narcan - reverses an overdose. It has helped to cut the number of deaths in what many now call a heroin epidemic.
"The healthcare system as a whole has responded by making more Narcan available," said Chief Comer.
Comer said the problem is that it's taking more and more of the antidote to bring back someone who has overdosed. "It can be unnerving because you feel that the treatment that typically works now does not."
In 2014 dealers discovered they could make vast profits by cutting heroin with fentanyl - an elephant tranquilizer. It also makes the drug more potent and deadly. Now they're using a new synthetic drug called acrylfentanyl, which makes heroin 100 times more potent than morphine.
Acrylfentanyl has been linked to 44 deaths in Chicago and more in Pittsburgh in part because it resists the Naloxone emergency crews and families of addicts have come to rely on to bring them back.
"We have cases where it's taking five to six times the amount," said Chief Comer.
The additive is so new, it's not clear whether it is responsible for any deaths in the Rochester area. Yet there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of patients requiring multiple doses of Naloxone.
"In some cases we have to give them an IV dose which is a little more potent and sometimes repeat that dose," said Chief Comer.
In February, China announced it will ban the manufacture of acrylfentanyl and three other synthetic opioids. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says that could cut the supply headed for the U.S. by 60 percent.
Until then, some emergency crews are carrying more Naloxone doses. For families using prescription versions of the drug, being prepared to do the same comes at a cost of hundreds of dollars each time they need it.