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Why a prescription painkiller is killing Vt. heroin addicts - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Why a prescription painkiller is killing Vt. heroin addicts

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

There's a new drug on the streets that is so powerful, even a few grains can be deadly. It's called fentanyl and it has already killed three Vermonters.

"We're really putting everything we have into this because we want to make sure we identify the source of the fentanyl and we want to identify the people who are trafficking it," said Lt. Matt Birmingham, the commander of the Vt. State Police Drug Task Force.

Fentanyl is generally used to treat cancer patients. The Vermont Health Department says the narcotic is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin-- a recipe for an overdose. And these deaths from pure fentanyl are the first of their kind in the state.

"When you take a dose of heroin and it happens to be fentanyl, you're getting 50 times the dose, making it more likely that you're going to overdose and die," said Dr. Harry Chen, the commissioner of the Vt. Department of Health.

Experts say some addicts use it to enhance their high, but others might not even know it's in their drugs. Police say in Addison County it's being illegally sold and packaged as heroin.

"This new phenomenon of fentanyl is something that law enforcement across the country is trying to manage now. A lot of the fentanyl we're seeing is being sold as heroin, so on the street people are buying it as heroin. They believe it to be heroin," Birmingham said.

It has already proved deadly in other states, like in western Pennsylvania, where last month, at least 22 people died from fentanyl-laced heroin. Vermont State Police say they're working to figure out where this drug is coming from so they can stop it.

"We want to get ahead of that as fast as we can and make sure we identify the source of it, but at this time we don't know exactly where this fentanyl is coming from," Birmingham said.

In the deaths reported in other states, it's not unusual for someone who has injected heroin containing fentanyl to be found dead with the needle still in their arm; police say it works that fast.

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