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SAMHSA Press Releases

Date: June 8 , 2006
Media Contact: SAMHSA Media
Telephone: 240-276-2130






The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has issued an action alert to substance abuse treatment and prevention professionals about a new combination of street drugs with a potentially lethal effect. The addition of fentanyl, a powerful narcotic analgesic, to heroin or cocaine being sold on the streets is believed to be the cause of clusters of drug-related deaths and even greater numbers of overdoses in east coast and midwest cities in the past few months.

In just one week in May, an estimated 33 individuals in the Detroit are reported to have died after using this fatal drug mix. The same drug combination may have been responsible for over 100 deaths in Philadelphia/Camden, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit since last September.

The alert was issued by SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Director H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., to substance abuse professional organizations, treatment providers, state substance abuse authorities, and recovery community-related organizations and individuals. It highlights the growing concern about the potentially fatal effects of this street-drug combination and encloses a brief fact sheet about preventing as well as detecting and treating overdoses.

“Individuals involved in the public health need to be aware of this new dangerous drug combination,” Dr. Clark said. “They need to be prepared to alert patients, clients and others to help save lives. After all, fentanyl is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. When mixed with cocaine or heroin, the results can be lethal.”

The alert encourages recipients not only to advise their networks of patients and colleagues, but also to join local health authorities to bring information about the drugs to first responders, emergency room personnel, street substance abuse workers, drug treatment facilities, local health care providers, the recovery community, and the public at large.

When used illegally, particularly in combination with a drug such as heroin or cocaine, or when used in excessive amounts, fentanyl can result in irregular heart beat, the inability to breathe, and death. In some cases, heroin or cocaine users are aware they are purchasing this dangerous combination of drugs; in other cases, the buyer is not aware that he or she is purchasing this potentially lethal drug combination. The alert advises local vigilance for the possible introduction of this potent drug mixture into circulation on the street and emphasizes the importance of education, particularly on the street.

Download Fact Sheet and Letter from SAMHSA's CSAT Director (Adobe PDF format)

Download Fact Sheet and Letter from SAMHSA's CSAT Director (MS Word format)




SAMHSA, is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is responsible for improving the accountability, capacity and effectiveness of the nation’s substance abuse prevention, addictions, treatment, and mental health services delivery system.



SAMHSA is An Agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service