PITTSBURGH - Drug dealers may be "rebranding" a deadly heroin blend that is being blamed for 22 overdose deaths in western Pennsylvania, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said.
Kane's remarks came after state drug agents charged a 29-year-old Clairton man on Thursday with possessing heroin stamped with the name "Sky High." Heroin dealers stamp individual bags with catchy names that give the drug a street identity.
Earlier this week, Kane and other law enforcement sources confirmed that a heroin blend sold in bags marked "Theraflu" or "Bud Ice" has been linked to the recent rash of fatal overdoses in and around Pittsburgh.
Authorities believe the "Sky High" bags also might contain the same deadly mix of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic morphine up to 100 times more powerful than heroin.
Kane said there's reason to believe dealers are trying to sell the same drugs under different labels now that the other names have been publicized.
"Our agents and investigators are working cooperatively and effectively with their counterparts in the region in an effort to track down the heroin source so that they can be brought to justice," Kane said.
Dr. Karl Williams, the Allegheny County medical examiner, has confirmed 14 deaths from the deadly mixture. He believes it's likely being produced by one person or source, because fentanyl, which is prescribed as a painkiller for cancer patients and others, isn't easily manufactured on the street.
"I think that somebody's probably synthesizing it themselves," Williams said. "The likelihood that I have separate people mixing it up is pretty rare."
The man arrested for allegedly possessing the "Sky High" drugs was the sixth alleged dealer charged in southwestern Pennsylvania in recent days. Investigators are hoping those arrests will lead to information about the drug's source, and a state police bulletin issued Thursday indicated the trail may lead to Paterson, N.J.
Federal, state and New Jersey authorities haven't commented specifically on the bulletin.
The case is drawing comparisons to the deadly "China White" substance blamed for 18 overdoses in the Pittsburgh area in 1988.
In that case, a heroin addict persuaded a chemist to make him the fake heroin -- a substance chemically known as 3-methyl-fentanyl -- which was then also sold to others. The chemist, Thomas Schaefers, of Aspinwall, is still serving a 40-year prison sentence.