Suspected heroin deaths in Fayette raise concerns

Suspected heroin deaths in Fayette raise concerns

While heroin was once considered a dirty street drug you’d more likely find in the back alleys of large cities, local law enforcement agencies say they are seeing more and more evidence in recent years that this drug is gaining a foothold right here in Fayette County.

Earlier this month, Peachtree City Police posted on Facebook that two recent fatalities in Peachtree City are suspected to have been due to heroin overdoses, and the post also suggested those heroin doses may have contained fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug.

Earlier this week, Peachtree City Police Lieutenant Mark Brown said his department has been made aware of a third similar death in Peachtree City, though he said they can not yet confirm the details.

“It’s all still under investigation,” Brown said, explaining that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Crime Lab is leading that investigation to determine exact substances involved in those fatalities.

Also in recent weeks, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department has indicated that an additional suspected heroin death took place in an unincorporated part of the county.

Heroin, which is an opiate, meaning it is derived directly from the poppy plant, is highly physically addictive, and once a person is addicted, their body will have a very difficult time living without more of it or perhaps some opioid substitute. Like any pain medicine, once the human body gets used to certain doses it may take higher doses in the future to achieve the same amount of pain relief or desired physical high. For this reason, some dealers will sell heroin laced with other narcotics that help boost the user’s physical experience.

The following is what the Peachtree City Police Department published in its Feb. 3 Facebook post regarding laced heroin:

“There has been some information that would indicate a trend of overdoses related to heroin laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic narcotic drug typically prescribed after people have become tolerant to traditional pain medications, or as anesthesia for minor surgery. Drug abusers are unaware that producers are lacing these drugs. Fentanyl is one of the most powerful synthetically produced narcotics, 100 times more powerful than morphine, and many times more potent than heroin.”

The post went on to offer signs to watch for in detecting possible illegal drug use among loved ones.

“Signs of a possible illegal drug abuse include unexplained missing items out of the home, abuse of prescription drugs, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, lethargic behavior, withdrawn, prolonged periods of sleeping during the day, isolation, loss of friends, unexplained pale or sickly appearance.”

While it may be surprising to some that people in relatively wealthy communities like Peachtree City and Fayette County  would turn to heroin, it is important to understand that people don’t usually start their drug habits with heroin. Heroin is not what is considered to be a “gateway drug”. In other words, if someone is using heroin, they most likely started using another drug, and probably an illicit one, before they tried heroin.

Fayette County Sheriff Barry Babb says in many cases, people are getting hooked on prescription pain pills, many of which are opiates and opioids, and then when they find it difficult to obtain more pills they turn to the black market, where heroin is generally cheaper than illegally sourced pain pills.

Babb says that, for now, there are not any known heroin dealers in Fayette County, but he said some Fayette residents have been found to have connected with heroin dealers in Atlanta.

State Representative Ronnie Mabra pre-filed a piece of legislation in December hoping to gain support for a new law that would require patients who receive more than 90 days’ worth of prescription pain pills to be required to receive addiction prevention education. That bill didn’t gain traction, so Mabra redrafted it to focus more on patients of pain management clinics, which are often called “pill mills”, and that new bill, HB 407, not only attracted a few co-sponsors, but it also has received a second hearing thus far. If nothing else, Mabra says he is grateful to be raising the alarm regarding drug abuse dangers on the state level.

Back on the local level, Brown says one of the goals of the Peachtree City Police Department’s Facebook campaign and other public service announcements is to keep the public informed of the dangers out there, including those associated with illegal drug use, drug addictions and overdoses.

Brown says one of the most important things a parent can do is to ask more questions of their young people and know more about what is really happening in their lives. This, he says, can go a long way toward detecting or even preventing problems with drugs.

“These opiates are not forgiving drugs,” Mabra said in a recent interview regarding HB 407. “Death is a consequence.”

According to the Web site for Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.org) in Atlanta, “Deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Every day in the United States, 120 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments for the misuse or abuse of drugs.”

A Web site that will be especially helpful to parents wanting to know more about certain drugs and how to spot signs and symptoms in their own children is www.DrugAbuse.gov, which is published by National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Danny Harrison

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.