Spurred by a spike in overdose deaths in the East Detective Division this month, Philadelphia police conducted a three-day initiative last week in which they arrested 176 people, some of whom may have sold the fatal batches of heroin.
"We were specifically, with the drug organizations, looking at the ones that were selling the dope that was killing people out there," said Chief Inspector of Narcotics Daniel MacDonald.
From Dec. 1 to 5, apparent drug overdoses killed 35 people, many of whom were found in the division's territory, according to police and the Medical Examiner's Office. The division covers parts of North Philadelphia, Kensington, Juniata Park, Feltonville, Port Richmond, and Hunting Park.
Although the department is awaiting lab results, MacDonald said it was believed that the spike may have been a result of fentanyl-laced heroin.
"We know what packets were involved with some of the overdoses that we've seen in the recent past, so . . . we did target those specific groups to see if we could get more of the fentanyl-laced heroin, and we did find some of the heroin, preliminarily, was laced with fentanyl," he said.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Forensic Science Center, police said that from last Wednesday to Friday they served warrants on violent offenders, attacked open-air drug markets, and saturated neighborhoods with patrols.
Of the 176 arrested - for violent offenses, drug offenses, and/or prostitution - six were juveniles, and less than 10 percent came from the suburbs, police said.
Authorities said they seized 161 grams of heroin with a street value of more than $53,000; 1,282 grams of cocaine with a street value of more than $128,000; and various amounts of other drugs, including crack, marijuana, and prescription opioids, with a total street value of $226,000.
Police said they also confiscated 21 guns, 14 cars, and more than $45,000 in cash.
Capt. Michael Cram, commanding officer of the 25th District, said residents were bolstered by the operation.
"The big takeaway from this is it kind of makes the bad guys keep their heads down, and it gives the good people hope," he said. "That's the most important part of it."
How long that hope will last is uncertain. Inspector Melvin Singleton, commanding officer of the narcotics field division, said it would not take long for other drug dealers to take the places of those who were arrested.
"It's usually within a week, but we don't stop," he said. "This is just the beginning of an attack into the area."