A young EMT saw me at the hospital this week as we were both bringing patients in. She had a present for me, she said. After I got my patient situated in their assigned bed in the hallway and gave a report to the nurse, I went back outside and met the EMT. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a latex glove. Inside the glove were five bags of fentanyl labeled “Kiss Me.”
She asked me if I had ever seen this brand before, and I told her I had. I explained that today the dealers in Hartford almost all either use blank envelopes or preprinted bags with brands such as “Kiss Me,” “Pray for Death,” or “Venom” on them. Since the law started charging dealers with murder if someone oded on their brand, no one uses the same brand all the time. They switch them out constantly. The dealer selling “Kiss Me” today will likely be selling “Ultimate Level” next week. The brands are sort of like wrapping paper. The dealers either buy them from the tattoo studio, which stocks them or order them off the internet. You can buy them on the internet. You can no longer judge the quality of what is inside a bag based merely on the wrapping paper the dealer chose to use. While years ago brands such as “Red Star” and “KD” were linked to particular dealers, that is very rare today. “Kiss Me” bought on Park Street in July of 2022 has no relation to “Kiss Me” bought on Albany Avenue in March of 2022. The dealers just chose the same design (wrapping paper).
I held one of the bags she gave me up to the light and then explained to her that she had actually given me full bags. This was not the first time this has happened to me. There is so little powder in one bag, it is easy for someone to think it is empty. A typical bag has 0.1 gram of powder.
Years ago, the powder was maybe 50% heroin and 50% adulterants like baking soda and sugars. Today, there is virtually no heroin in Hartford anymore. The 0.1 gram of powder still looks the same, but today it contains fentanyl and adulterants. Because fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, each bag contains much less active ingredient. A typical bag of fentanyl contains only 2% fentanyl, 98% adulterants. Unfortunately, there is no typical bag. Because fentanyl mixes so poorly – it tends to clump — a bag may contain no fentanyl at all, the ideal 1 or 2%, or 12% or maybe even more. The problem is a person using can’t tell until they do it how much was actually in the bag. If they inject it IV, they will know sooner than later if it doesn’t knock them out right away. We find our share of people dead with the needle still in their vein. The shot can quickly stop their breathing. They go unconscious with death from hypoxia resulting as their heart gradually slows to no beat at all. If they snort it, it may take a few minutes to hit them. If they swallow a counterfeit pill like Percocet that is really just fentanyl and adulterants, it will be even longer until they learn just how potent that pill was. People die because they can’t judge the dose they are getting. That’s why many people are calling this overdose death epidemic, a mass poisoning.
The EMT was given the bags by a person who overdosed. After he was resuscitated, he swore he would never use again and handed her the bags, which she guessed were empty by their bulk. He also told her he was tired of the uneven quality of the bags. He could buy some bags and not even get high. Then he does a bag of “Kiss Me” and he wakes up to see an EMT standing over him.
I’m guessing that is not the last naloxone he receives. He is a regular along Park Street. A nice old man, I give him oranges when I see him. He has no teeth so he can’t eat apples, but he loves oranges. He’ll finish the orange you give while you are still talking to him. Fortunately for him, he usually always does his fentanyl in public. But I am still afraid one day we will find him dead behind a tree off Park Terrace or on a bench in Pope Park.