Street Drug Stamp Bags: A Boon For Public Health Initiatives

By Anirban Chakraborty

Recent research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and published in Public Health Reports has revealed the promise of drug stamp bags in complementing the efforts of Public Health Drug Surveillance to respond to the Opioid crisis. Stamp bags are essentially ready-to-sell packets containing prepared mixtures of drugs that are used by dealers and often labeled with a graphic design. Although stamp bags typically contain heroin, the recent findings demonstrated an increase in prevalence of fentanyl, a far more potent opioid than heroin, in the products. Overall, the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health found that the presence of fentanyl in stamp bags rose from nonexistent between 2010 and 2014 to 15.5% in 2016. The packages were seized by law enforcement in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and individually analyzed by the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner.

            The ability to determine trends in different drug prevalences from seized illicit products would be valuable amidst the Opioid crisis. This is especially true given that the alternative current strategies, such as studying toxicology results from overdose victims, are far more time intensive. Karl E. Williams of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner and co-author of the research paper explains that given the dynamic and changing nature of the opioid crisis, “the ability to rapidly analyze drugs causing these overdoses... is critical...”. Analysis of stamp bags can aid public health awareness initiatives by indicating the entrance of new drugs in the market, such as fentanyl, which would also increase the preparedness of first responders.

            As contended by Kathleen Creppage, lead author of the research study, data from stamp bags could be a useful supplement to other public health surveillance methods, like toxicology. Overall, stamp bags present another way to fight the Opioid crisis.


University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. "Analyzing street drugs points to potential early warning system in opioid crisis." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2018. <>.