A cocktail of lethal narcotics has caused at least four deaths in Franklin County and more than a dozen more overdoses.
First responders have administered Narcan in several cases, stopping the effects of the opiates, and for one person the reversal drug was used three separate occasions.
Two people linked to bringing the potent opiates into the area have been arrested and authorities have identified a third suspect.
Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton said the Multi-County Violent Crime and Narcotics Unit and Washington police executed a search warrant in the 1000 block of Karen Lane in Washington.
A 27-year-old St. Louis man and a 29-year-old Washington woman were arrested at the home. During the search suspected heroin was seized, Pelton said. A 25-year-old Washington woman also was arrested later in connection to the distribution of the potent batch of drugs. Their names are being withheld pending formal charges.
“We suspect this had fentanyl in it, or a mixture of heroin and fentanyl,” Pelton said. “Or it is mixed with something else. I am interested to see the lab results.”
Pelton said the heroin was sent for lab testing, and it is believed to be from the same “hot batch” that has caused 13 overdoses in unincorporated Franklin County and another seven overdoses in Washington.
Many of those overdoses occurred between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30.
In addition, there were three overdoses Jan. 1 in the Union city limits and another three that occurred at the Franklin County Jail. See a separate story in this issue of The Missourian about the jail incidents.
“The high volume of recent heroin overdoses indicates the heroin entering our community seems to be very potent and possibly laced with fentanyl,” Pelton said.
The four overdose deaths all occurred in unincorporated Franklin County. The names of the deceased were not released.
Washington police Detective Sgt. Steve Sitzes said the most recent overdose was Thursday inside a vehicle in traffic at Highway 100 and Highway 47.
“We just worked one today (Thursday) where they had to break the window to get to them,” he said. The Narcan then was administrated by Washington Ambulance personnel.
Sitzes added first responders dosed one man with Narcan on three separate occasions within 36 hours.
Washington Fire Chief Tim Frankenberg said this is the most overdoses he has seen in his more than 23 years with the fire department.
“It is the most overdoses I’ve seen in one cluster than ever before,” he said. “It is not a good mixture at all. The potency is obviously higher than ever before.”
While there have been other highly potent batches of heroin, Pelton agreed that the recent number in such a short time frame eclipses past stretches of overdoses.
He expects that in some instances addicts were given cash for Christmas or received gifts that could be exchanged for cash which funded the purchase of the drugs.
“We just got through Christmas and addicts were given money or gifts that could be exchanged for money,” Pelton said. “This is enabling addicts to get more drugs.”
Pelton urged friends and family members of addicts to reach out to the heroin users.
“This is some really potent stuff,” he said. “We encourage family members to tell them not to do it and to seek out help.”
Pelton suggested people contact their doctors if they need help quitting drugs so they can be referred to some type of treatment program.
He added that programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meet locally.
“They can take the first steps and do whatever it takes to get clean.”
Anyone with information about suspected drug trafficking is asked to call the Franklin County Narcotics Office at 636-239-9700 or the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at 636-583-2560 to provide information.
Previous ‘Hot Batches’
In June 2017, a potent batch of heroin hit Washington, which led to three overdose cases in less than two days.
Whenever there is a string of overdoses it typically can be traced to a “hot batch” of heroin.
Those highly potent batches usually are laced with fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin.
Dealers are more frequently adding fentanyl to heroin to boost the potency, but because of the much greater strength, it’s the cause of many fatal overdoses.
Heroin can be laced with the synthetic opioid to make it more powerful, but dealers and buyers underestimate the potency of the drug. Oftentimes, drug users in Franklin County purchase heroin in St. Louis and surrounding areas.
There also has been rare cases in the St. Louis region involving carfentanil, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.