Police responded to at least six fatal heroin overdoses Sunday in Philadelphia, all linked to what investigators think is a bad batch currently circulating the city.
Five men and a woman died after taking the drug Sunday, ranging in ages from 24 to 42. The incidents all occurred in the Kensington and North Philadelphia neighborhoods, areas plagued by the national opioid epidemic. Nearly 50 people overdosed on heroin in one day in the same area of Philadelphia last month. No one died but many of the patients had to be revived with the reversal drug naloxone, reports NBC4.
The investigation into Sunday’s overdoses is ongoing, and police do not yet know what the heroin was mixed with. Investigators say heroin in Philadelphia is usually extremely pure but can contain rat poison or more potent ingredients like fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Fatal overdoes from fentanyl spiked 636 percent in Philadelphia over the past year. A synthetic painkiller called W-18 is also being mixed into heroin in Philadelphia and is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.
Use of prescription painkillers is now more widespread in the U.S. than using tobacco, a stark representation of the opioid epidemic plaguing states across the country. Many people who overdose on substances like heroin began with a dependence on prescription painkillers, but switched after building high tolerances that made them too expensive.
The overdose antidote drug naloxone, also called Narcan, is now legally available in Virginia without a prescription in an effort to combat rising overdose rates in the state. Virginia Health Commissioner Marissa Levine declared opioid overdoses in the state a public health emergency Nov. 21 and issued the standing order to allow anyone to obtain naloxone.
Overdoes from heroin or prescription opioids are rapidly increasing in Virginia, with 801 overdoses confirmed in 2015. Roughly three Virginians die of a drug overdose every day.
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