12th person in Camden County sickened by laced heroin

Posted: July 06, 2011

Camden County prosecutors said Tuesday a 12th person was sickened by heroin apparently laced with a powerful opiate after a rash of overdoses sent 11 people to the hospital over the weekend.

Camden police are trying to find the source of the heroin - which they suspect is laced with fentanyl, an extremely powerful painkiller given to terminal cancer patients - by working with those who have overdosed. Most of them said they purchased the drug, known as "Hellfire," in the North Camden and Whitman Park neighborhoods, according to the county Prosecutor's Office.

At a needle exchange Tuesday, some users said they seek out heroin concoctions like the one blamed in these overdoses as well as in 60 deaths over a five-month span in 2006.

"Normally I'll buy that if I hear somebody has it," said a 20-year-old heroin user named Kirsten, who withheld her last name to avoid trouble with her probation officer. "It's a dangerous game, but the drug is good."

The Camden Area Health Education Center (CAHEC) posted a notice Tuesday at its needle exchange. The sign read: "Bad dope alert. 'Hellfire.' Have you heard anything?"

CAHEC staff members warned heroin users to be extra careful in light of the uptick in overdoses, saying they should start slow and see how they react to small doses.

"A lot of our participants, they don't trust it's going to kill them," said Laurie Pasahow, a nurse practitioner with the CAHEC.

Camden police and the Camden County prosecutor said the 11 people who were treated at Cooper University Hospital from Friday through Sunday were released. The status of the 12th was not immediately known. They don't face any charges, according to the Prosecutor's Office.

Bo, a 60-year-old heroin user and Pennsauken resident who withheld his last name, said users typically overdose on laced heroin when they take prescription pain killers before shooting up.

"People do other drugs on top," he said. "You can't do all them drugs."

In the 2006 overdoses, a Pennsauken man pleaded guilty to being a source of the laced heroin. Jaime Castellar was sentenced in 2008 to six years in federal prison for running a basement drug mill where the heroin was produced.

Anyone with information related to the sales is asked to contact the Camden Police Department's Narcotics Hot Line at 856-757-7222. Information may also be given through the District Council Collaborative Board website, camdendccb.org. Tips may be provided anonymously.

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