When police warn about bad heroin, users seek it out

Posted: March 14, 2014

HEROIN DOESN'T need much marketing, but nothing boosts sales better than a bad batch that's dropping bodies.

Dealers have put their own unique stamps and images on packets of heroin for a long time. Just yesterday in Philadelphia, police confiscated heroin called "Nighttime," "BMW" and "Ice Cream." There are also stamps representing basketball stars (LeBron James), houses of fashion (Prada), government agencies (USDA) and even comic-book characters.

" 'Incredible Hulk' is from right around the corner," an addict named Andrew, 35, said yesterday morning as he munched on an apple in north Camden.

Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson realizes sober logic doesn't apply to addicts. That's why he didn't want to name the potentially fatal brand of heroin that caused at least 15 nonfatal overdoses in fewer than 24 hours this week. The department learned a lesson back in 2006, he said, when trying to warn the public about heroin laced with the powerful anesthetic fentanyl that was killing people.

"We released that information thinking it would have a deterrent effect, and what we found with operations out in the field was that it actually enhanced it," Thomson said yesterday. "Traffic was unbelievable, and since then we've made a policy not to release that information for public health reasons."

Thomson said initial testing has shown that this latest heroin is not laced with fentanyl, or much else for that matter.

"In the Philadelphia-Camden region, we have some of the purest heroin in the United States of America. The most recent DEA testing . . . had us at 92 percent purity," he said.

Users in Camden insisted they can handle it and acknowledged they would actively seek out batches authorities deem deadly, even if it they are laced with fentanyl.

"I haven't had anything that's good. I don't have that kind of money," said Andrew, a Moorestown, Burlington County, native who's been using in Camden for six months. "I can use up to eight bags."

Lt. Charles Jackson, of Philadelphia's Narcotics Unit, said users like to get close to that edge, chasing a bigger high.

"It seems like many of them think, 'Oh it's not going to happen to me.' Some of them want to feel that overdose or near-death experience," he said.

Outside a church on Stevens Street near Broadway in Camden, two Kensington natives said they'd already heard about the stamp that's putting people in the hospital in Camden.

"I think they're selling it in south [Camden]," said one man, 33.

Thomson said there's no rhyme or reason with heroin stamp names. Most are simple pop-culture or high-end-brand references, while others use slogans like "Nitro" to promote the potency.

The stamps on the heroin that killed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman were "Ace of Spades" and "Ace of Hearts."

With about 75 drug sets operating in Camden, there are dozens of brands being sold on any given day.

"It's everything from Gucci, Pokemon, Pac-Man, Smartface, White House, Bear, Get High. It's a brand," Thomson said. There's even a "Daily News" brand circulating.

Thomson, who saw someone waving down a car after an overdose Tuesday and stopped to help, said victims can be treated with Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Most users, he said, come to Camden from the suburbs. He'd like to think they've learned a lesson, but he knows it can take more than an overdose to break a habit.

"Nah, nobody's going to be scared of that stuff," the 33-year-old man said outside the church on Stevens Street. "It's more bang for the buck."

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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