FBI identifies suspected drug dealers following rise in heroin overdoses in Pennsylvania
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said because of the growing heroin problem here, investigators are treating each overdose as an investigation and the FBI has set up a special coordination center for sharing of information with the Drug Enforcement c and local police in the region.
“I have directed that we will give no quarter in our prosecutions where heroin is involved. So we have doubled down in our investigations of drug trafficking organizations,” Hickton said. “The problem is still the worst epidemic we have ever seen. It’s a public health and public safety problem, and we’re all over it.”
The victims in the recent wave of cases are from Washington and Cambria counties.
“We have already identified suspects in both counties and we’re working on arrests,” Hickton said.
Hickton said some of the heroin that triggered the overdoses was laced with fentanyl, a powerful painkiller, and the emergency medication Narcan saved the lives of many of the victims.
The U.S. attorney had issued what he described as a public alert because of the large number of overdoses.
“As counter-intuitive as this sounds, the addicts seek it,” Hickton said. “Their brain has been hijacked and they believe, because they’re not thinking clearly, that it may kill someone else, but that they’re not going to be hurt by it. That they’re invincible.”
He directed concerned members of the public to the website OverdoseFreePA.org for resource information. He said authorities would ask the website to post resource information as well as warnings concerning particularly dangerous batches of heroin.
“We’re urging people who are addicted and families of people who are addicted that this is the moment that you need to get help,” he said.
Hickton said the DEA has a local tip line 412-287-3829. He said people can also send tips via text message to TIP411 (847411) with the notation DEA PA.
“We’re working this as hard as we can,” Hickton said. “The country is looking to western Pennsylvania for ideas and leadership on this and hopefully we’re giving it to them.”
The Pittsburgh-based prosecutor oversees 25 counties.
Hickton wanted to alert the public to drugs sold in stamp bags marked “Black Boot,” ”Boot Camp” and “Peace of Mind” in Washington County and “Bulletproof” and “Head Trauma” in Cambria. He said lab tests have already confirmed that some Washington County heroin was laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic painkiller often linked to overdoses. Tests on the Cambria County drugs were ongoing.
The DEA is coordinating the collection of data sheets on each overdose, which should help investigators more quickly identify patterns of overdoses and especially potent drugs. The DEA has also deployed six agents to Washington County and was using the new informational response to overdoses to investigate them more quickly.
In recent months, Hickton’s office has charged eight people with supplying heroin that led directly to five fatal overdoses. Another suspect was charged late last year with selling a “super” brand of fentanyl-laced heroin that may be linked to two more deaths.
Although the latest overdoses are outside Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, the problem continues in the city, too. There were 307 drug overdose deaths in 2014 and 349 – or nearly one each day – in 2015 in Allegheny County.
That’s why alerting the public to prevent overdoses, instead of merely prosecuting dealers after the fact, is so important, Hickton said.
“Shame and stigma have fueled this problem,” Hickton said. “It is urgent that people who love these addicts get them off the streets and into care.”