Street users call it drop dead, executioner, flat-liner, the exorcist, Al Capone, fefe, Teflon and diesel. Cops know it as a deadly mix of heroin and fentanyl, an anesthetic and painkiller far more potent than morphine. For cancer patients racked with pain, legally prescribed fentanyl can be a godsend. But for junkies, the fentanyl-heroin cocktail has become the hot new high, as lethal as it is alluring. It is being blamed for hundreds of deaths this year in big cities in the Midwest and Northeast. In Wayne County, Mich., home to Detroit, there have been 50 deaths in just the past two weeks, including 19 in one deadly day in May.
The problem is that cops don't know who is spreading the killer junk on the streets. It might be just one big bad batch that's been widely distributed, or it could be coming from multiple sources, say law-enforcement officials, who first began noticing a spike in fentanyl-heroin overdoses in November. One promising new lead came from the arrest of five people at an underground fentanyl lab in Mexico. "We're working to see if there's a connection, if that lab was the source," says DEA spokeswoman Rogene Waite. Federal and local police are meeting in Chicago this month to compare notes and come up with a cohesive strategy to combat the growing crisis.
Dealers are not intentionally killing their customers. Instead, it appears that in their zeal to get the new product on the street, dealers haven't perfected the recipe. Users say the blend, when snorted, injected or smoked, gives them an instant feeling of extreme euphoria. After 11 people died from the drug in one day in Chicago last month, police issued a public warning. Instead of being scared off, "people flocked to the area looking for the drug," says police spokeswoman Monique Bond. "They say," says Frank Limon, a top Chicago cop, "that it's the best high they've ever had." And the deadliest.