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Lethal heroin brand 'Theraflu' circulating in Alle-Kiski Valley

Courtesy | Armstrong County Coroner

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Not first ‘bad batch'

In one week in 2006, a Verona man and another from Aspinwall were among the six people who died in Allegheny County after overdosing on a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, police said. A Frazer man survived an overdose.

In 1988, at least 20 people died in Allegheny County after using 3-methyl-fentanyl, commonly known as China White. They thought they were injecting heroin.

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Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 3:48 p.m.

During recent weeks, two Alle-Kiski women have died and at least a dozen more have overdosed on heroin labeled “Theraflu,” police and other officials warned on Friday.

The rash of overdoses prompted unusual public announcements focusing attention on a particular heroin dose name.

Each heroin packet being sold has the name “Theraflu” stamped on it. Theraflu is the brand name of a legitimate flu medication.

In the Alle-Kiski Valley, overdoses blamed on the “Theraflu” heroin in recent weeks have been reported in Arnold, New Kensington, Lower Burrell, Plum, Harrison, Fawn and the Kittanning area.

Police say more than one overdose has occurred in some towns.

Police and prosecutors usually don't make the dose names public for fear that addicts will search for the heroin even if it might kill them.

But Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck and Coroner Kenneth Bacha decided on Friday that it is better to warn users and their families.

“Maybe the dealers came up with the name because people on heroin who can't get it are said to have flu-like symptoms,” Peck said. “We don't know. What we know is that this is dangerous.”

“Theraflu” individual doses are more potent and likely more lethal than other heroin, he said.

“They are telling users if they use two or more bags (ordinarily) to only use one of this,” Bacha said.

Bacha and Peck said “Theraflu” heroin samples have been sent for analysis. Tests also are being done on “Theraflu” heroin found in Armstrong and Allegheny counties.

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams said three heroin deaths occurred in 48 hours in neighborhoods outside the Valley, including at least one Pittsburgh case.

All three have been connected to “Theraflu,” he said.

“Although definitive testing is not completed, we suspect this to be a particularly strong form of heroin,” Williams said.

Officials said there would have been more deaths except for the medicine Narcan, which reverses the effects of heroin and other narcotics.

In Butler County, District Attorney Richard A. Goldinger and Coroner William F. Young III didn't return calls for comment.

“We have been hearing about this batch,” said Dr. Neil A. Capretto, Gateway Rehabilitation's medical director and a Vandergrift native.

“About two weeks ago, I talked with a Plum-area man who had been using 10 to 15 bags a day,” Capretto said. ““He almost died from using two bags of ‘Theraflu.' It's a pattern that we're seeing.”

He said dealers are warning “Theraflu” customers to only use one bag.

While thinking people would stay away from something that's dangerous, some addicts want it.

“They're willing to pay more, and the dealers are competing,” Capretto said. “(Dealers) don't want to lose to the competition, so we will start to see copycat individual stamp bags with the same name. It's not like there is quality control from the Food and Drug Administration.”

Capretto said he and other doctors want Narcan to be more accessible because it would save more lives.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or

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