A new, deadly mix of heroin has been sweeping through the Northwest in the past month, causing numerous deaths in Washington state, while Central Oregon police and fire medics said Friday they also have been grappling with a rising number of heroin overdoses.
It started in Seattle -- seven deaths in five days. And just this week it's already moved to Cowlitz County, Wash., near Portland, where another seven people have died -- some with the heroin needle still in their hand.
It's arguably the most addictive drug you can get your hands on. And police, paramedics and emergency room doctors in Oregon and Washington are seeing a deadly spike in people using heroin, ever since pseudoephedrine, used to make methamphetamine, went behind the counter and prescription pain pills became harder to get.
"It's not slowing down -- it's actually increasing," said Bend police Lt. Brian Kindel.
"We've had countless overdoses where people die and are brought back," he said. "We've had multiple deaths lately."
Bend police say that's because they're seeing purer forms of the drug. A higher purity makes snorting and inhaling an alternative to injecting, but it also makes it deadly.
"It's extremely pure, and we've never had it so available and so pure," Kindel explained. "When you take this stuff, you're relying on someone that when they bake this stuff, it's pure, and they have to cut it down. And if they're not cutting it down properly, they're not putting the right stuff in there to minimize the effects, you're taking pure heroin -- and that's going to kill you."
In just the past five weeks, 14 people have died from heroin in western Washington. Seattle public health officials say this latest batch could have had a lethal additive mixed in, and it seems to be moving south, now appearing in the Portland area.
Three men were busted Tuesday on Highway 97 near La Pine with 16 pounds of heroin, worth an estimated $500,000 -- apparently traveling through the area, police said.
Officers say the last time a very strong batch was in Bend was only a few months ago, and the Bend Fire Department's EMS manager remembers it all too well.
"We had a series of three major calls within two days," said Tom Wright. "And what made them major is we have a drug called Narcan that normally reverses the effects of a heroin overdose. But in all three cases, the patients required huge amounts of the drug."
"We actually had to bring in drugs from other ambulances and fire trucks to the scene. because we were running out on scene with our normal doses," Wright explained.
The few suppliers willing to risk driving over the mountains have a monopoly on Central Oregon. Bend police say they can sell an ounce for double the price here than they can get in Portland.