Authorities: Nearly 20 overdoses in Cambria County in 2 days

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JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- Authorities say a potent string of heroin is circulating through Cambria County and has already resulted in nearly 20 overdoses in just two days.

To say first responders and emergency doctors in Cambria County have been busy this week would be an understatement.

"It's been almost 20 heroin overdoses in the past two days, which is extremely unusual for us," said Dr. Daniel R. Wehner, chairman of emergency medicine at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.

Authorities are warning about specific stamp bags of heroin marked with a black-and-red skull and the title "Bulletproof." In the past, authorities have also seen several fatal overdoses involving stamp bags labeled "Black Ops" and "Head Trauma." They're believed to be connected to each case. And while it's still not clear if they're a higher potency than typical heroin or actually laced with another drug, they're causing users to go in shock and often cardiac arrest.

"It's putting your heart into an atypical arrhythmia and it's shutting down your breathing, filling up your lungs with fluid, and people are going into respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest," said Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees.

Cardiac arrest is an emergency situation that at one time doctors expected to see in their older patients or those with heart problems. Now though, more often than not, they say the cardiac arrests they see are due to drug overdoses.

"At least half the cardiac arrest calls that we get end up being heroin overdoses," Wehner said. "Fortunately, they survive."

"My office would be flooded with drug overdose fatalities if it would not be for our first responders providing this medicine and for their quick actions," Lees said.

In fact many of the overdose patients taken to Conemaugh Hspital this week have already been released thanks to the effect reversing drug Naloxane, more commonly known as Narcan.

Unfortunately though two people have died.

It's a trend that's becoming more frequent across the nation. In Cambria County alone, Lees said, drug overdoses accounted for 58 deaths last year, 20 of them because of heroin.

In November, the drug enforcement administration said Cambria County was ranked third in the state per-capita for overdose deaths, coming in behind only Philadelphia and Susquehanna counties.

But death isn't something addicts say they ever feared.

"You totally rule out the possibility of dying," said Michael Russell, who has been a recovering addict for a year. "You just want the euphoric feeling of how high I want to be and that takes over the fact that I could actually die from it."

Russell, Jessica Schilling and Brandon Darcangelo are patients at Peniel Treatment Center in Johnstown who talked with 6 News on Wednesday. They're all recovering addicts who encourage others to get help.

"A lot of people are ending up dead and I would say this is the best thing that has ever happened to me," Darcangelo said. " A chance to take my life back and gain a relationship with God. Because I feel that that's the only thing that is going to save me."

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