Fentanyl laced heroin may have been responsible for the overdose suspected of killing Philip Seymour Hoffman, the latest advance for a deadly strain of the drug linked to dozens of deaths along the East Coast.
Hoffman was found dead in his New York City apartment on Sunday morning, with his assistant finding the actor with a hypodermic needle still in his arm. Police reportedly found 50 bags of heroin on the scene, some of them marked with the name "Ace of Spades."
Though details are still emerging, some experts have connected Hoffman's death the heroin laced with fentanyl, a drug that goes by the street names "Ace of Spades" and "Theraflu." Fentanyl is an opiate used to ease the pain of cancer patients, but is given in microdoses and usually by use of a patch.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is estimated to be 80 stronger than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin.
Heroin laced with fentanyl has been showing up on the East Coast in increasing frequency, authorities say. In Pennsylvania there have been 20 deaths related to the drug with another 22 suspected overdoses from fentanyl heroin in Rhode Island.
One of the biggest dangers from fentanyl heroin is that many longtime users --- which would include Philip Seymour Hoffman, who fell off the wagon in 2012 after more than 20 years of sobriety --- do not believe they can be harmed by the strain, said Rhode Island Health Director Michael D. Fine.
"People live in a certain kind of denial sometimes — that they can get high without risking death," Fine said. "The thing to emphasize here is getting high is risking death."
In Pittsburgh, where fentanyl laced heroin is suspected in at least 17 overdoses in recent weeks, officials are looking at the drug as an epidemic.
"It is absolutely critical — especially those that have loved ones who are in recovery, or those that are addicted — to make sure they know that if they have that bag, and it is stamped with 'Theraflu,' to get rid of it," Pittsburgh mayor William Peduto told CBS Pittsburgh. "It will kill you."
It has not yet been determined whether Philip Seymour Hoffman died from fentanyl laced heroin, but a full medical report is expected within weeks.
[Image of P.S. Hoffman Via Yahoo News]