heroin needle
Credit: Kevin Karns/Flickr

It was quite a weekend in Philadelphia. At least 165 people overdosed on Friday and Saturday alone. According to the reporting, the culprit was fentanyl that has been laced into the city’s heroin supply. This time however, there may have been an additional adulteration:

Still, the cluster tested the city’s response to overdoses and drove home a fact that advocates, law enforcement officials, and drug users have known for months: Philadelphia’s heroin supply, long noted for its purity and cheapness, is almost entirely contaminated, largely with the synthetic opioid fentanyl and sometimes with other substances…

…Health officials believe it may have been heroin cut with an anticholinergic, a substance found in muscle relaxers and the antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl) that causes dangerous side effects.

Thanks to the increasing availability of Narcan, only 10 people actually died. Officially, 1,217 people died of an overdose in Philadelphia last year, so losing 10 people in the span of two nights is not out of the norm.

Even pure unadulterated heroin is soul-crushing and easily lethal, but what’s out on the streets now is far more worrisome.

Some more recent arrivals in Kensington, however, say they actually prefer the deadlier synthetic opioid fentanyl. “There’s no one doing heroin,” claimed a young man sitting in a folding chair at the Frankford Avenue heroin encampment Sunday morning. “You’ll be doing six bags of heroin [for the effect of] one bag of fentanyl.”

But fentanyl’s effects are impossible to predict, especially when taken unintentionally. The synthetic was present in 84 percent of all opioid-related deaths in Philadelphia last year.

This past weekend saw a huge spike in overdoses if not in deaths, but things are back to normal now:

By Tuesday, the situation was mostly back to normal in Kensington — which, health officials said, means 35 overdoses in city emergency rooms a day. On Monday, a group of people lined up a few blocks off Kensington Avenue as a dealer handed out free samples of heroin. In McPherson Square, a woman overdosed next to a park bench outside the library.

After an Inquirer columnist, a library staffer, and paramedics revived her, she walked away. A woman named Tricia ran after her to find out what she had been using. Sometimes drug users flock to products linked to more overdoses, figuring they have the built-up tolerance to handle them. Not this time. Tricia said she wanted to avoid the product — and an overdose.

I remember Donald Trump saying he was going to make addressing the opioid epidemic a priority but he spends all his time in his own self-inflicted drama. While he’s absorbed in shouting out his idiot wind of bullshit, the real world goes on and the opioid problem just gets worse.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com