CHICAGO - Chicago's top federal drug enforcement official is stepping down from his post. DEA Special Agent in Charge Dennis Wichern is retiring.
On December 31, 2017 Wichern will leave the DEA's Chicago Field Division and its 540 employees in five states.
Wichern has been a federal drug agent for 31 years overseeing the federal fight against opioids in Chicago for the last three.
He told the I-Team he leaves with some regret after a storied career where he has seen sweeping changes in the drug landscape here and across the country.
For Wichern and many at the DEA in Chicago, the agency's greatest arrest - of cartel drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Mexico - came with some disappointment when officials decided Guzman would be prosecuted in New York and not Chicago, even though the Chicago case was considered the strongest of the two.
"When the New York prosecution finishes up it will be an all U.S. prosecution. I don't think there will be any subsequent prosecutions," Wichern said.
Wichern will leave after two extensions of the DEA's mandatory retirement for agents. He also leaves behind a war on drugs that has changed but hasn't been won.
"It's like heroin never left. It just, it's exploded in the recent years but it's always been out there," he said.
The opioid epidemic continues to claim hundreds of lives each month in the metro Chicago area, and now heroin is being mixed with bootleg strains of the painkiller fentanyl.
Wichern has fought against those drugs for three decades in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Washington D.C. and Chicago. His motivation remains intact.
When asked what was next he said if he were 27 again, he said he'd join up with the Drug Enforcement Administration again. He said he'll keep trying to help people as he's been doing for the past 30 years.
After retiring from the DEA, Wichern hopes to work with hospitals and medical providers on best practices for handling opioids and other controlled substances.