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Bad Heroin Hits Philly Streets, Making Junkies Crazy

May 10, 1996

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A powerful heroin cocktail swamped hospital emergency rooms Friday with more than 100 violently delirious junkies, some who needed four workers at a time to restrain them.

Police were rushing unconscious drug users from the streets where they had fallen Thursday night to area hospitals, where they had to be held down by straps, laundry workers and motor pool employees. One beleaguered hospital refused admissions for four hours. Another doctor said each addict who regained consciousness needed an average of four workers to be restrained.

``It’s was like the front lines in ’Nam, like a MASH unit,″ said a security guard at Episcopal Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity. ``Yelling, bodies coming in by the minute, cars zooming up, dropping junkies, and taking off.″

As of Friday evening, 116 addicts had been treated, and people were still lining up for a crack at the drug Friday.

``It’s a double-edge sword,″ said Capt. Arthur Woody of the police narcotics unit. ``You want to warn people there’s danger out there, but then some come in droves because they want to try some of that `good stuff.‴

Dubbed ``Super Buick″ and ``Homicide,″ this batch was an odd and super-potent blend of cocaine, heroin, dextramorphin, the vitamin thyamin and an anti-motion sickness drug called scopalamine, police said.

A similar batch caused concern in February, when 43 Philadelphia-area addicts were stricken. Later that month, four people died of overdoses.

The combination causes two contrary but equally dangerous reactions, said Dr. Larry Brilliant of Episcopal.

``They’re not breathing when they come in, with a faint and irregular heartbeat. But when we administer Narc-an (a heroin antidote), the scopalamine kicks in and they become wild,″ Brilliant said.

Judging by how fast the casualties came in, Brilliant hypothesized that the heroin highball was a deliberately bad batch put on the street to ruin a local drug dealer.

``You have fights between drug lords, and sometimes one will try to poison the clients of another out of revenge,″ he said.

Hospital workers feared a second wave of patients over the weekend, after drug users receive pay and welfare checks. Drugs and money were still exchanging hands Friday in the scarred and doorless caverns of North Philadelphia crack houses.

Silma Licette, a 26-year-old who has been an addict for nine years, said she accepted a free bag of the bad batch Thursday night, even though she knew it had made people sick.

``Usually, I need four bags just to get me out of bed in the morning, so one bag is nothing,″ said Licette, gulping glass after glass of Diet Coke and complaining of seeing double and quadruple.

``But I didn’t get the plunger halfway down and my legs got all crazy on me. You get this crazy shaking and weakness and a taste in your mouth,″ she said, mock-staggering down the street to demonstrate.

``My old man said I ripped off all my clothes and he had to hold me down. I don’t remember. I remember vomiting all night, though.″

Police have posted 50 additional officers in the area.

One bittersweet side-effect, said a local school crossing guard who requested anonymity, is that the absent addicts allowed children to play in the street.

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