PUEBLO, Colo. - An emergency room physician reports treating patients who have overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a narcotic pain reliever.
Donald Ross Patrick, an emergency medicine physician at Parkview Medical Center, said fentanyl is a synthetic narcotic derived from morphine. When combined with heroin, he said the results can be deadly.
"It has very strong respiratory depressions so patients are getting small amounts of this drug and it's decreasing their ability to breathe," Dr. Patrick said. "That's where a lot of overdoses are being suspected now."
According to Dr. Patrick, the heroin problem is directly tied to another issue in Pueblo and across the country -- prescription drug abuse. "With the combination of decreased availability of prescription drugs on the streets and increased amounts being used by the patients or by the users, they're starting to switch to other cheaper alternatives," he said.
Emergency room doctors at Parkview limit the amount of prescription narcotics patients receive while they're in the emergency room. Doctors have access to a statewide database that allows them to see if a patient is going doctor to doctor in search of prescription drugs. "As we started to scrutinize and be a little more restrictive in how we dole out these medications, people have turned to alternatives," Dr. Patrick said.
Leroy Lucero, president and CEO of Crossroads, a drug treatment center in Pueblo, said there has been a more than 20 percent increase in the number of people seeking treatment for heroin use since August 2013.
A spokesperson for Parkview said she didn't have any data to reflect the increase in heroin cases at the hospital.