The drug did not discriminate. Among the dead: Men and women, young and old. None was a famous actor, though.
County and state law enforcement officials sounded the warning about the deadly drug, and Pittsburgh's mayor pleaded for people to come forward with information.
Within days, a 39-year-old Pittsburgh man was in custody charged with selling the heroin. Authorities seized more than 2,000 bags of the suspected heroin from the man's home, state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said at the time.
"It is my highest priority to find and hold accountable those involved in the distribution of this deadly drug mixture," she said.
Authorities in Maryland sounded a similar warning after 37 people died between September and January after using heroin laced with fentanyl.
And in New York City, authorities have reported a dramatic jump in heroin-related deaths. From 2010 to 2012, heroin-related deaths jumped 84%, from 3.1 to 5.7 per 100,000 people, according to a New York City Health Department report released in 2013. That amounts to 382 deaths in 2012, more than one per day.
"The more attention that these things get in the media, the more likelihood there's going to be a strong police response," said Giacalone, who teaches criminal investigation at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
Celebrities vs. ordinary people
But the media doesn't pay close attention to an overdose death of an ordinary New Yorker, said Dzikansky, who spent years investigating drug overdoses.
"Most of the overdoses that I dealt with, I can't say all, but there was a significant amount where the person, in order to feed the habit, would burglarize apartments," he said.
"Here's an example of a person with a family who brought joy to many, many people and, unfortunately, his addiction killed him. Now there's more attention ... We have to get it [heroin] off the streets. Once it's off the streets, everybody benefits, even the burglar who does it to feed a habit benefits."
Hundreds of miles from New York City, Beth Vernau heard the news of Hoffman's death and the police investigation.
There has been no such law enforcement response looking into her son Andrew's heroin overdose last October, she says.
"What makes his death more important than that of my 19-year-old son?" Vernau, who lives outside Pittsburgh, asked of Hoffman's apparent drug overdose.
"(The police) get on it because it makes the news. But you have a 19-year-old who overdosed, and there could be an example made out there: We're going to go after these people. But no, because he's not a celebrity, that's the end of it."
'Families of ordinary kids struggle'
Andrew was hospitalized two days before dying from an addiction that started when he was 13, Vernau said. He started abusing alcohol and pot, then prescription drugs and, finally, heroin.
She said her son overdosed and the two people he was with put him in her car and drove him around for an hour and 45 minutes before taking him to a hospital. There was no prosecution, she said, no search for the dealer who sold him the heroin.
"Don't get me wrong, I feel bad for anybody who dies of an overdose. But the families of ordinary kids struggle just as much," she said.
Giacalone said some will unfairly criticize the rapid police response to the death of the celebrity.