With city overdoses more than doubling over the last 45 days, resulting in two deaths, the Cortland Police Department raided a drug den linked to a new, powerful drug called Brorphine this morning.
Officers descended at 8 a.m. on 237 Port Watson St. with a search warrant in hand, according to the department. Police discovered wax bags that contained a mixture of Brorphine and other drugs strewn across the floor, as well as hundreds of used needles, said Lt. Michael Strangeway.
The residence was being used as a place where addicts could both purchase and use heroin and bath salts laced with the newly-invented Brorphine, according to the department.
The drug den was empty of all addicts and sellers when officers arrived and only one person — a wanted sex offender — was there, Strangeway said. The offender — Kipp J. Patterelli, 54, of Cortland — was arrested and charged with felony failing to register as a sex offender and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor.
Detectives and patrol officers are still investigating those responsible for running the drug den and selling the deadly, laced drugs, Strangeway said.
“The city police will continue to seek out and arrest individuals responsible for transporting and distributing these dangerous substances,” he said.
The first death
Overdoses in Cortland began an alarming uptick in the beginning of August leading to two deaths, said Strangeway.
“There was one week that went by and I know we had one everyday,” Srangeway said, referring to overdoses that occurred in late August. “When they start coming in every day, we have a problem.”
In the last 45 days, city officers responded to 15 overdoses, Strangeway said. In July, officers responded to just five, according to the department.
Two of the most recent overdoses cost the life of the users, Strangeway said. City police and the Cortland County Coroner’s Office worked together to try to determine what was making the drugs so deadly, Strangeway said. An autopsy on one of the bodies revealed the person had died from using Brorphine, he said.
“It was reported by the pathologist in that case, that this was the first instance of overdose by Brorphine that he was aware of in the area,” Strangeway said, adding the pathologist referred to Brorphine "deadly.”
The new drug in town
Brorphine is a powerful, new, synthetic drug that started increasing this June in the U.S., according to a July release from The Center for Forensic Science Research and Education, a non-profit that works to advance the field of forensic science. While it first appeared in 2018, it was not widely used until this summer when the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it was expanding its list of controlled substances. Brorphine is not yet listed by the DEA as a controlled substance, according to the research center.
“Pharmacological data show brorphine exhibits potency similar to fentanyl,” the research center warned, noting the new drug was detected in seven substance-related deaths in the U.S. “Recent detections in drug-related deaths leads us to believe this new synthetic opioid has the potential to cause widespread harm and is of public health concern.”
While the DEA has not yet classified Brorphine in controlled substances list, the administration is aware of its dangers and that it is being mixed with illegal drugs.
“Brorphine is a potent synthetic opioid recently encountered as both a single substance of abuse and in combination with substances such as heroin and fentanyl,” the DEA stated in an August release. “The availability of synthetic opioids continues to pose an imminent hazard to public safety.”
The DEA also notes that with detection methods to ferret out the drug still in the works, deaths due to Brorphine may be underreported.
“Brorphine has not been approved for medical use in the United States, and there are no published studies on safety for human use,” according the August DEA fact sheet. “Brorphine has no industrial use.”
Unlike plant-based drugs that have an ancient history of medicinal use in small doses, Brorphine was not created to treat any condition or for any commercial purpose besides cutting illegal drugs.
“They’re synthetic products, primarily manufactured in the Far East, like China,” Strangeway said. “They are far cheaper by weight than actual heroin or cocaine.”
Brorphine is also very potent.
“They have a very powerful, if not fatal, punch,” Strangeway said, adding it’s typically added to the already powerful drug heroin.
Brorphine’s high is potentially deadly, even to experienced drug users, according to an Aug. 3 scholarly article in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. The article was the first to publish an analysis of the new drug, according to the paper entitled, “First Report on Brorphine: The Next Opioid on the Deadly New Psychoactive Substances’ Horizon?”
The authors warn: “Its high potency poses a serious and imminent health threat for any user.”
Adding to the danger, those selling the drugs have no way of knowing how much Brorphine is contained in each baggie of heroin or cocaine, Strangeway noted.
“There’s no pharmaceutical grade equipment in use when it comes to mixing these substances,” Strangeway said, noting Brorphine and Fentanyl are sometimes mixed into heroin or cocaine with a kitchen whisk. A drug user might buy drugs from a single batch, where one dose is weak and the other is fatally stronger, he said. “That’s how accidental overdoses happen,” Strangeway said.
New drug, old story
City detectives and officers are continuing to track down the sellers and distributors of the Brorphine-laced drugs, Strangeway said.
“Our investigation up to this point has led us to identify a couple of individuals that we believe are responsible for running the house,” he said.
However, the investigation may expand beyond the person running the drug den to a large-scale drug trafficker, Strangeway said. He noted the wax drug bags recovered at the Port Watson Street house were stamped with brand names — “Spiderman” and “Monster High” — that indicate it came from a large heroin manufacturer and distributor.
“When you get those stamped bags, those generally come from large heroin mills,” Strangeway said. “These are coming from large metropolitan areas.”
The drugs could easily be coming from Chicago and other areas in the Midwest that are starting to see this new drug with greater frequency, he noted.
Today’s Brorphine is following the same disturbing pattern police saw in 2010 when addictive opiates came to Cortland’s drug market, Strangeway said.
In 2010, a drug trafficking group from Queens came to Cortland with a new, highly addictive strain of heroin they branded with a “Gravediggers” stamp, Strangeway said. That heroin strain made many locals addicts and some are still suffering from addiction today, he said.
But that doesn’t mean users need to stay addicted, especially when the area’s drugs are being laced with such a dangerous additive, Strangeway noted.
Addicts can come to the police station to receive help as part of the Angel Program instituted by the District Attorney Pat Perfetti and run by the Cortland Police Department, he said.
If a person comes to the station at 25 Court Street asking to surrender their drugs and to be placed in a treatment program, they will not be charged and they will be helped into a facility, Strangeway said.
“They can come here looking for help,” Strangeway said. “They will not be prosecuted.”
Strangeway urged users to stay away from these especially deadly brands of drugs and to seek treatment.
“While it’s illegal to possess, transport and sell drugs, addiction is a disease and you can’t prosecute your way out of a disease,” he said. “It requires treatment.”