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11 Philly Deaths May Be Linked to ‘Synthetic Heroin’

March 8, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A heroin substitute blamed for 17 deaths in the New York City area last month may have killed 11 people in and around Philadelphia, a newspaper reported today. Six of the deaths were in one 24-hour period.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to determine if illegal clones of the tranquilizer fentanyl caused the deaths, which began in mid- February, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The ″designer drug″ versions of fentanyl can be 25 to 100 times more powerful than heroin. It is hard for makers to control the potency and easy for addicts to overdose, authorities said.

Designer fentanyl was believed responsible for the deaths of 17 people and hospitalization of 200 in and around New York City last month.

Sam Billbrough, the special agent in charge of the DEA office in Philadelphia, said he didn’t know if the local deaths were related to the New York cases. Most of the heroin sold in Philadelphia comes from New York, he said.

Billbrough said toxicological tests were being done to see if six deaths in Philadelphia during the weekend were caused by kinds of fentanyl.

The DEA also will test heroin seized to see if fentanyl is present, DEA spokeswoman Mary Vaira said.

Versions of the drug have been labeled China White, Red Sun and ″Tango and Cash.″

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