Four die as new drug hits streets in US

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The Independent Online
A fake-heroin drug which killed four people in Baltimore on Friday night and sent 50 more to hospital emergency rooms has heightened police fears that drug dealers are testing out a deadly new product on the streets of big cities along the East Coast of the United States.

"This a health emergency," the Mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, said at a hastily convened press conference at the city's Johns Hopkins hospital which alone handled two dozen cases. Doctors said many of those brought in were hallucinating, lashing out at anyone who approached them and demonstrating memory loss and symptoms of paranoia.

"Cynical dealers are now marketing a new product," Mr Schmoke said. "They're trying to determine whether people die from it, or get high from it." The answer in Baltimore this weekend appears to be: both.

Adding to the authorities' alarm, the sudden outbreak in Baltimore came just 24 hours after more than 100 people were taken to hospital in Philadelphia, having taken taken a concoction nicknamed "Super Buick" or "Homicide". Unlike the mixture discovered in Baltimore, the variant in Philadelphia did contain either heroin or cocaine.

But in both cities, similar additives were used. They include scopolamine, a key ingredient in medications against travel sickness, as well as dextromethorphan, a drug used in cough medicines to slow breathing, and quinine. According to Johns Hopkins doctors, the scopolamine was being peddled in capsules containing 1,000 times the recommended amount. Apparently the consumers in Baltimore who paid $10 (pounds 7) per dose thought they were buying heroin.

As of yesterday the new product had not reached Washington, where no unusual drug concoctions have been reported on the streets in recent days. Rather, the scopolamine-laced cocktails seem to be another stage in the unceasing competition between rival dealers searching to provide addicts with an ever-more potent and pleasing product.

Experts did not expect the lethal new strain to remain around for long: "Dealers have no interest in killing off their customers," one said.