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July 19, 2010
Medics treating more heroin overdoses in Utah
By Pat Reavy
HOLLADAY, Utah — Unified Fire Authority Capt. Fitz Peterson and his Holladay-based crew responded to four heroin overdoses last week — all on the same day. "That's never happened to me, ever," he said. "For one crew to go on four in one day, in the same city, is unheard of."
In addition to Holladay's four, there were a couple of others that day, including one in Magna and another in Cottonwood Heights. In at least half of the cases, the victim died. The victim in one of Peterson's cases, a 20-year-old man, is now brain dead, he said.
"None of the four patients were breathing adequately to sustain life," Peterson said of what paramedics found when they first arrived to each person.
The unusual spike in heroin overdoses around Salt Lake County this week has some officials sending out a renewed message about the danger of the highly addictive drug, and a plea for those who are using it to get help.
While investigators were unsure if there was any solid link between the overdoses, some officials suspect a "bad batch" of heroin may have entered the Salt Lake market, as happens from time to time. Typically, heroin sold on the street is 30 percent to 40 percent pure and mixed, or "cut," with other ingredients, said Cottonwood Heights police officer Beau Babka.
Occasionally, there will be batches of heroin enter the county that are 80 percent to 90 percent pure. "If you're taking a normal dose (of heroin) and instead of 30 (percent) to 40 percent pure, you get 80 (percent) to 90 percent pure, it's an amazing shock on the body," he said.
Although he doubts anyone would listen, Peterson said he would encourage everyone who has purchased heroin recently in Salt Lake County to throw out the last supply they bought. As an example of the highly addictive quality of heroin, Peterson noted that one of the patients they saved this week complained all the way to the hospital that paramedics were "ruining" his high, even though the man at one point wasn't breathing.
While some local agencies report no increase or a small increase in heroin overdoses or arrests, Peterson said in his area, he has noticed an increase in problems related to the drug. Part of that, he believed, could be attributed to the economy. The drugs of choice for most users Peterson has seen through much of his career are prescription medications such as OxyContin and other powerful painkillers.
"The cost is high right now for those painkillers — a lot more than it is for a dose of heroin," he said.
The problem of heroin in Utah is nothing new. Local and state law enforcers have held several operations, and continue to do so, in the south end of the valley, focusing on young adults from Utah County who travel to Sandy, Draper and West Jordan for the sole purpose of buying heroin and cocaine.
In 2005, the Deseret News ran stories about a spike in teenagers, many of them from wealthier families, who had died from heroin overdoses. Even though the recent rash of heroin overdoses will ease once the cycle of bad heroin is phased out of the county, the problem of heroin addiction itself won't go away, Peterson said. Users need to want to change and seek help, he said.
And friends and relatives need to reach out to addicted loved ones and let them know what resources are available, he said, noting that he will often lecture patients on the way to the emergency room.
"You target those who will be the most effective audience. Go after the stronger person in the room to talk about seeking help," he said. The other most important tool is law enforcement, Peterson said. "Notify them about any infraction you know is going on," he said. "If enough people come forward, we can put a dent in the current batch."