Fentanyl deaths spike in Chicago area

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Fentanyl is a synthetic drug commonly used for surgeries and post-operative care.

Chicago area public health officials are grappling with an increase in deaths due to overdoses of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

On Monday, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office reported a sharp increase in fentanyl-related deaths. They join officials in Will and DuPage counties who are also troubled by more overdoses related to strong new batches of fentanyl.

Now, a new FBI campaign hopes to education people about the threat.

Fentanyl is a drug commonly used for surgeries and post-operative care. The drug is in the family of opioids, which includes morphine and heroin.

At Gateway Treatment Centers in Naperville, patient service representatives take calls around the clock. Most of their concerns are opioid addiction.

"We know treatment works, but if we can't get people to treatment it's really hard to help them change their behavior as well as their use of medicines," said Jim Scarpace, executive director of Gateway Aurora.

Making the heroin epidemic worse is the use of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.

"Fentanyl is something that we use during surgery or during procedures," said Dr. Steven Aks, of Stroger Hospital of Cook County. "It's routinely used in the hospital every day. It is an ultra-potent pain medication."

Staff at Stroger Hospital of Cook County in Chicago also have seen increases in fentanyl overdoses - some of them fatal.

More than 100 deaths last year are attributed to new varieties of fentanyl, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

"We really started seeing a big spike back in September. We had one day where we had nine victims come in at once," Aks said.

Efforts to prevent opioid use now coming from a partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

The federal agencies will premiere their new documentary in the Chicago area at Westmont High School on Wednesday.

WATCH: Clips of FBI/DEA documentary about opiate addiction

However, John Roberts - whose son Billy Roberts died of a heroin overdose -- worries that new, powerful illegal opioids will lead to more grieving families.

"If anybody were to take a pure dose of fentanyl, it would kill them on the spot," Roberts said.

After Billy Roberts died seven years ago, his father started Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (H.E.R.O).

"Until I join my little boy, I will fight this battle until that day," Roberts said.

Treatment experts suspect those using heroin may mistake fentanyl as heroin, but the drug is much more powerful and can take several does of the antidote to revive a patient.

Anyone concerned about a loved one can now be trained and get naloxone from a pharmacy or recovery advocacy organizations.

H.E.R.O. is hosting an event on April 29 at Edward Hospital Athletic and Events Center in Romeoville. For more information, CLICK HERE.
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