Four people suffered drug overdoses within a one-hour period late last week at the same small plaza near the United States Post Office on Ward Street, authorities said. Ambulances also responded to three other non-fatal overdoses in the same general area during the previous 24 hours
All the victims survived after receiving medical attention, according to Chief Michael Postorino of the Paterson Fire Department. But “seven in 24 hours – that’s not normal,” he adds. Postorino also oversees the city’s emergency medical staff.
Even though authorities have yet to receive toxicology reports on the victims, Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale said he was fairly certain the victims ingested the highly potent and deadly drug fentanyl, which he said is becoming increasingly common in the heroin trade.
“This is not just a Paterson problem, this is a national epidemic,” Speziale said. “People are dropping like flies from this stuff. They don’t even get done injecting it and they are overdosing.”
Officials were not able to provide any recent statistics for the number of drug overdoses or deaths in Paterson.
Postorino said the victims of the recent overdoses included men and women. Officials did not have information about their ages or where they live. Paterson’s open-air drug markets attract buyers from all over northern New Jersey, and some come from New York and Pennsylvania.
Speziale said authorities have not identified a particular brand of heroin – the glassine packets come with names stamped on them – responsible for the seven overdoses. Speziale said street dealers are not the ones adding the fentanyl to the heroin. “They don’t know what they’re selling,” he said.
The operators of drug mills add the fentanyl as they process the heroin for distribution, Speziale said. On the wholesale market, the fentanyl is 10 times cheaper than heroin and far more potent, so dealers add the synthetic drug to the mix to maximize their profits, Speziale said.
Medical personnel commonly use the medication Narcan to revive people suffering from an opioid overdose. But Speziale said fentanyl overdoses tend to be more resistant to Narcan. Sometimes, he said, several doses of the medication are needed to revive someone.
Postorino said city emergency medical technicians used Narcan in three of the seven recent overdoses. The chief said members of his staff began using the medication in July after getting training at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center.