Heroin still a scourge, but fentanyl on rise

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Steve Denhup, Drug Enforcement Administration Intelligence Group Administrator for the Philadelphia Field Division presents a drug threat assessment briefing at Pennsylvania College of Technology Thursday.

Heroin continues to be the greatest drug threat across the U.S., but the use and distribution of fentanyl is dramatically increasing.

Steve Denhup, intelligence group supervisor with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Philadelphia, shared drug information with Project Bald Eagle Thursday.

Drug overdoses, he said, have shown an alarming increase in the state alone, many of those from heroin. But Denhup noted that fentanyl overdose deaths have increased by 53 percent in the state in recent years.

“This is just the beginning of the fentanyl problem,” he said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to but much more powerful than morphine often used to treat patients with severe pain. On the street, fentanyl is cheaper to buy than heroin. The quantity of fentanyl ordered through underground channels is increasing. It often is distributed throughout the state through street sales of counterfeit pills.

“We have had a dramatic increase in fentanyl seizures,” Denhup said.

Heroin continues to be the greatest drug threat in the state where the highest purity form of the drug can be found.

Denhup noted that the state is a popular market to nearby drug traffickers located in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

And, heroin prices continue to be cheap.

Denhup pointed to the rising use of cocaine and the slight increase in overdoses from the drug.

“Cocaine is rebounding,” he said.

In some counties, such as Bradford, fatal overdoses from methemphetamine are the highest of any other drugs.

Meanwhile, prescription pain opioids such as oxycodone continue to be a problem with many people illegally obtaining the drugs through friends or relatives, according to Denhup.

Nearly 79,000 people, including physicians and other medical professsionals, are able to prescribe opioids to people in the state alone.