Health officials and police departments across Westchester and the Hudson Valley say it is only a matter of time before a deadly grade of heroin laced with elephant tranquilizer makes it way to the area.
"Just like birds, this type of heroin tends to migrate across the country when it is successful in one spot," said Donald Johnson, program director for the methadone program at The Guidance Center of Westchester. "You can guarantee it will turn up. At this point it's just a waiting game until it shows up."
The new mix, which officials say started in the Midwest, contains the synthetic drug carfentanil, which is 10,000 times as potent as morphine. Officials say the substance is connected to at least 189 overdoses and four deaths over the past couple of weeks.
Johnson says the mix is so toxic that overdose drugs like Narcan might not work on users.
"When you think about what it takes to bring down an elephant, you can imagine the effect the drug has on a person when mixed with heroin," he added.
Currently, police and health officials are dealing with a batch of heroin laced with fentanyl, an opioid that can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin, said Ramapo police Detective Lt. Mark Emma.
The problem, he said, with fentanyl is that it is absorbed through the skin and officers are put at risk if they touch the drugs without having on gloves.
"The officers or EMS can feel the effects of the drugs if they aren't properly protected," he said.
Christopher Goldrick, director of the Rockland County Drug Task Force agrees. "Currently, we are just covered up with deaths and overdoses from heroin laced with fentanyl."
The task force has heard of the new batch laced with elephant tranquilizer but hasn't seen it in the area to date.
"The current batch of laced heroin is coming from China, then through Mexico and then distributed to the East and West Coasts," Goldrick said. "A lot of times people don't even know that they are taking heroin laced with fentanyl."
Across Westchester County, Johnson said the heroin and opioid problem is bigger than the resources available to combat the problem.
"Currently, every program to help a user get clean has a waiting list," he said. "But there is always help of some kind available to those who are ready."
To receive immediate help with a heroin or opioid addiction, call The Guidance Center of Westchester at 914-632-1374.
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