Tests have confirmed there was heroin in at least some of the scores of plastic packets in the New York City apartment where Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead, a law enforcement official said on Monday, and authorities are working to determine whether the drug was mixed or tainted with anything else.
Medical examiners have not yet made an official determination of the cause of the 46-year-old actor’s death, but police have been investigating it as a suspected overdose. Hoffman was found in a bathroom with a syringe in his arm, law enforcement officials have said.
A few details have begun to sketch a picture of his final day and the circumstances in which he was found in his apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village on Sunday. And questions have swirled about whether Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death could be linked to a potent blend of heroin and synthetic morphine that has been tied to deaths elsewhere, though as yet there are no official findings pointing to that scenario.
“The direction of the investigation is going to depend, in large part, on the findings of the medical examiner and the findings of the lab tests,” chief police spokesman Stephen Davis said.
An autopsy began on Monday, but results weren’t expected until at least Tuesday, the city medical examiners’ office said.
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A friend had spoken to him by phone around 9 p.m. Saturday, in the last contact investigators are aware of anyone having with him, a law enforcement official said. The official said the actor’s door was double-locked when his body was found around 11:30 a.m. the next day by the same friend and Hoffman’s assistant.
In the apartment were at least four dozen small packets variously stamped with the ace of hearts and others with the ace of spades, two law enforcement officials said Monday. Tests of samples showed heroin in each type, one of the officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the evidence gathered.
Authorities also found unused syringes, a charred spoon and various prescription medications, including a blood-pressure drug and a muscle relaxant, one of the officials said.
Stamps are common as a form of drug-world branding, and authorities make note of the ones they encounter, though they’re hardly trademarks — different producers might use the same symbol. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the ace of hearts and ace of spades stamps could lead investigators to any clues about the source of the items found in Hoffman’s apartment.
Concern has risen around the region in recent months about fentanyl, a synthetic morphine substitute roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine, being mixed with or substituted for heroin. In western Pennsylvania, 22 people died within a week last month from suspected overdoses of heroin and fentanyl, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said last week; at least a half-dozen suspected dealers have been charged there.
On New York’s Long Island, the Nassau County medical examiner’s office said Friday it was investigating several deaths initially assumed to be heroin overdoses but later found to have involved fentanyl being sold in packets stamped “24K.”
In New York City, a fentanyl-heroin blend cropped up recently in a case against a man charged last month with running a sizeable heroin and cocaine ring. In one of various alleged deals, he sold a 200-gram package of powder that later tested positive for both heroin and fentanyl, a prosecutor’s office spokeswoman said Monday.
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Philip Seymour Hoffman death comes amid rise in heroin abuse, trafficking
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Feb 3 (Reuters) – The apparent heroin overdose death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman comes amid a sharp rise in trafficking of the illegal narcotic across the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years and growing abuse of the drug nationwide, federal officials said on Monday.
The increasing levels of U.S. heroin use, which has reached epidemic proportions during the past five years, stems from a corresponding spike in abuse of prescription opiate-based painkillers, such as oxycodone, Drug Enforcement Administration officials said.
Many individuals who start out abusing oxycodone turn eventually to heroin as they build up a tolerance to the pain pills and find that they can buy heroin far more cheaply than prescription medications on the black market, the officials said.
“Oxy is much more expensive to get than heroin,” said Sarah Pullen, a special DEA agent in Los Angeles. “Prescription drug abuse really took hold about 10 years ago, and about five years ago, we really started to see heroin abuse pick up.”
The amount of heroin seized annually along America’s Southwestern border has increased nearly four-fold between 2008 and 2012, from 558.8 kg (1,232 lb) to 2,091 kg (4,610 lb) per year, a sign that smuggling operations are on the rise, the DEA said.
Ninety-five percent of the heroin smuggled into the United States originates in South America, much of it in Mexico, the agency said.
Meanwhile, fatal heroin overdoses have increased 45 percent from 2006 to 2010, with 3,038 such deaths reported that year, and numbers are believed to still be on the rise, the agency said.
Possible reasons cited for the rise in heroin deaths include a general increase in abuse of the drug, an increase in the availability of high-purity heroin at the street level, and a growing number of people using the narcotic at a younger age.
Authorities in the Northeast said they have seen a rash of fatal overdoses in recent months attributed to a deadly brand of heroin laced with fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Law enforcement sources told Reuters investigators were trying to determine whether the heroin that is suspected of killing Hoffman, 46, might have been laced with fentanyl.
The Oscar-winning actor, who had a history of substance abuse, was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment on Sunday, with a syringe stuck in his arm. New York City police sources familiar with the case said 50 small bags of what appeared to be heroin were found in his home.
An autopsy of the actor’s body was performed on Monday, but it was not known when results would be released.
Dr. Marvin Seppala, the chief medical officer at the Hazelden drug addiction treatment centers, said heroin and other opioids lend themselves to overdose and death because they directly act on the parts of the brain that control breathing.
Erin Mulvey, a DEA special agent in New York City, said additives such fentanyl are added to heroin at local distribution centers where pure heroin smuggled into the United States is processed and packaged for street sales.
She said 17 percent of all heroin seized by authorities in recent years has been confiscated in New York, a sign that the city is a major U.S. distribution hub for the drug.
The DEA had no nationwide data quantifying the incidence of overall heroin use independent of overdose deaths.
But the Los Angeles Times cited figures from a neuropharmacology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who said the percentage of addicts seeking treatment for heroin abuse at 150 drug treatment centers across the country has increased from about 10 percent in 2011-2012 to between 20 and 25 percent over the past year. (Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)