Customers in a McDonald’s drive-thru in Pennsylvania were able to purchase heroin if they said the code words “I’d like to order a toy.” An informant told Allegheny County authorities that a McDonald’s employee in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh was selling the drug out of the restaurant, and undercover agents set up a controlled purchase.
A spokesperson for the Allegheny District Attorney explained that those seeking to buy heroin were told to go through the drive-thru and say the words “I’d like to order a toy.” The customer would then proceed up to the first drive-thru window, hand over the money, and receive a Happy Meal box that contained the heroin. The customer would then leave without going to the second window.
Fast food restaurants are known by law enforcement as places where drugs are sometimes sold. Drug sales and other illicit activities are masked by the constant traffic and fast-paced environment of these establishments.
The Happy Meal box that officers from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s narcotics unit purchased on Wednesday afternoon was found to contain 10 stamp bags of the drug. McDonald’s employee Shania Dennis, 26, of East Pittsburgh was arrested in connection with the operation. An additional 50 bags of heroin were recovered from the suspect. Dennis denied any wrongdoing to reporters as she was led away in handcuffs.
Approximately two weeks ago and twenty miles east of Pennsylvania, another McDonald’s employee was arrested for selling heroin from while working at the restaurant. A confidential informant working with the police bought the drug from Theodore Levon Upshaw, 28, in the parking lot of the restaurant. Previously, the informant had purchased it inside the restaurant several times.
In addition, there have been 22 deaths in the past week in Western Pennsylvania linked to the drug. A single batch had been laced with fentanyl, a painkiller said to be 100 times more potent than morphine, was sold as heroin in bags stamped “Theraflu,” “Bud Ice,” and “Income Tax” but was 10 to 100 times more potent. Detectives do not believe that the Pittsburgh bust is related to any of these deaths.
According to state law enforcement officials, the number of users in Pennsylvania is only behind that of California and Illinois. In Philadelphia, overdoses related to heroin went up 250 percent between 2010 and 2012. The problem stems, according to experts, from abuse of and addiction to prescription painkillers like OxyContin. As an addict’s tolerance to opiates increases, the cheaper and more potent opiate alternative becomes a more efficient way to feed a growing habit.
In addition, Philadelphia has the purest and cheapest heroin in the nation, and it has been said that high purity is a precondition of all drug epidemics. Its purity in Philadelphia in combination with its availability and low price makes the transition to the drug from prescription opioids even easier there. Police say that heroin has become the suburban drug of choice in Philadelphia suburbs. The arrests of the two McDonald’s employees who were allegedly selling the drug from the restaurant, along with the 22 deaths, point out a problem in the Keystone State that many were unaware of.
By Donna Westlund