Three die in Monroe County of heroin overdoses in 24 hours

Three people in Monroe County have died of heroin overdoses in a 24-hour period, and authorities believe tainted drugs could be circulating in the area.

Monroe County Sheriff ’s Maj. Jeff Kemp said the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has issued a public safety warning after fentanyl-laced heroin was discovered on streets in southeast Michigan communities.

Maj. Kemp said because three men died in such a short time frame, including two at the same Bedford Township motel, he believes fentanyl might be mixed in with the heroin.

“We had three heroin overdose deaths in one shift, and I can’t remember if that’s ever happened before,” he said. “It’s killing them instantly.”

All three victims were discovered Tuesday. Two — a 31-year-old man from LaSalle and a 33-year-old man from Temperance — were found around 11 a.m. in the same Bedford Township motel, but they were in separate rooms and the victims apparently did not know each other. The third, 35, was found at 7:15 a.m. in a trailer at the Frenchtown Villa Mobile Home Park.

Maj. Kemp said all three subjects injected themselves with heroin and died immediately. All three were found in bathrooms, and their bodies have been sent to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsies to determine if fentanyl was a factor.

Lt. Marc Moore of the Monroe Area Narcotics Team & Investigative Services (MANTIS) said it is possible the two deaths in the motel on S. Telegraph Rd. were coincidental. Although the presence of fentanyl is another possibility, he said so far he has not seen solid evidence of its existence here.

“I have nothing that leads me to believe that fentanyl was involved,” Lt. Moore said. “I haven’t seen any in Monroe yet.”

Fentanyl has been on the market for decades as a prescription painkiller, and it is 80 times more potent than morphine. Dealers have been known to mix it with heroin to increase potency and product. In 2005 there was a rash of fentanyl deaths in southeast Michigan but only two in Monroe County were attributed to the painkiller.

Kim Comerzan, director of the Monroe County Health Department, said she has not yet seen evidence of fentanyl in overdose deaths here this year. In 2014 there were about 40 deaths attributed to drug overdoses, a yearslong, higher-than-normal trend.

“We’re still seeing high numbers,” Ms. Comerzan said. “We have not seen them starting to fall.”

Up to 60 deaths in Wayne and Washtenaw counties have been blamed on fentanyl this year, and many believe it could be making its way south to Monroe. Sheriff Dale Malone said drug users need to be extremely cautious, and those who know people who use heroin should warn them about the possibility of the presence of fentanyl in heroin.

Having three overdose deaths in Monroe County in one day is unusual and should be a warning that heroin could be tainted with fentanyl, Maj. Kemp said.

“It showed up here in the past and it’s a problem all over,” he said. “They’re taking a risk.”

Anyone who wishes to report drug activity is encouraged to contact the drug unit MANTIS at 734-240-2605.

• DEA Issues Nationwide Alert on Fentanyl as Threat to Health and Public Safety (click here)