(Received 10 October 1987; accepted 16 December 1987)
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In the latter part of 1985, a dramatic rise in the number of illicit narcotic (heroin) related deaths in the State of New Mexico became apparent, and this increase persisted through the majority of the following year. A careful inspection of samples of narcotics found at the scenes of death, coupled with changes in the illicit drug traffic detected by local and state law enforcement agencies, revealed that the rising death rate corresponded with the distinctively increased availability of a form of heroin that is produced in Mexico, commonly termed “black tar” heroin. An analysis of heroin deaths, comparing characteristics of cumulative deaths in the six years before the increase with those deaths associated with the apparent epidemic, revealed several significant observations. These factors, along with the distinctive physical features of black tar heroin, suggest that the rise in the narcotic abuse death rate may be related to both unfamiliarity with this type of heroin on the part of the user and the inherent difficulty of diluting nonpowdered forms of the drug to sublethal levels.
Medical investigator and assistant professor of pathology, Office of the Medical Investigator, University of New Mexico, School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM
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