The strain has been dubbed "Hollywood" heroin by police because it's branded with that name. It's not clear how long it has been in the state, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Dustin Fitch said.
The deaths were concentrated in the small cities of Holyoke and Chicopee, and there was one death in Springfield. Police departments have distributed warnings to the public about the drug.
Police are still investigating what makes this drug so dangerous. There could be a deadly mixture of additional chemicals in the batch, Holyoke Police Department Lt. Jim Albert said, or it could be so pure that even some addicts' bodies can't handle it.
In Holyoke, at least two of the overdoses were fatal and another death is under investigation for links to the drug. A few people were able to be saved by using Naloxone
, Albert said, and others were revived without it.
Chicopee Police Department officials said in a news release that between December 30 and January 1, there were seven overdoses because of the "Hollywood" heroin, including three fatalities.
"DO NOT use this," the release said.
In a seizure over the weekend, Springfield police seized 9,000 bags of heroin with the "Hollywood" stamp and arrested four people on heroin trafficking charges in conjunction with the bust. Police also confiscated $20,000 in cash. Most of the bags, about 8,000 of them, were hidden in a fake car bumper, according to police. The four people are scheduled to be arraigned in Springfield on Monday.
Springfield police Sgt. John Delaney said it was a large seizure, but it's possible there's more "Hollywood" heroin out there, and this "will not make a major dent." It could have been passed on to other dealers, or it could be labeled differently.
"Just like in all of New England, Springfield does have a heroin problem," Delaney said.
While this is an abnormal number of overdoses in a short time, heroin is a problem in Massachusetts, said Albert of the Holyoke police. That's why police decided to address the public about this deadly strain.
"We wanted to warn them," Albert said. "I know you're out there buying these bags, but you have to be careful. This stuff will kill you."
Massachusetts has seen a spike in deadly opioid overdoses in the past few years. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there was a 63% increase in opioid-related deaths from 2012 to 2014. A total 1,089 people died during 2014 of opioid-related overdoses, the department said.
Nationally, deaths from drug overdoses reached an all-time high in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans
, rising 14% from 2013 to 2014.
The Hampden County District Attorney's Office will continue to work with state police to investigate and prosecute those who are distributing and manufacturing heroin in the area, James Leydon, spokesman for the district attorney's office, said.
"It's happening throughout all different facets of our community," Leydon said. "It's definitely a problem we're trying to address and tackle."