Drug pushed on internet leads to 44 Cook County fentanyl deaths

A powerful and deadly drug that has already claimed dozens of lives this year in Chicago and the suburbs is the latest strain of fentanyl and appears to be readily available from your desktop or smartphone.

Call it an internet high. Acrylfentanyl, a so-called designer opioid, is usually mixed with heroin. It has produced 44 overdose deaths just in Cook County so far this year.

"In the last three years we've seen an explosion of fentanyl, sourced from China," said Dennis Wichern, Drug Enforcement Administration - Chicago.

Nearly six times as many people have overdosed and died on acrylfentanyl in 2017 versus 2016. Some of the analog fentanyl makes its way onto Chicago streets where authorities said it is sold the old-fashioned way: dealers take cash and hand over the drugs.

But there also appears to be a burgeoning internet market for acrylfentanyl. One website and YouTube channel offers powder and pill versions of the drug, "good quality in stock now."

Interested fentanyl buyers are told to place their order via email. The purveyor, who may operate out of Australia, told the I-Team that he sells "$35 per gram," with a "minimum order 25g."

As for fentanyl pills, according to the web dealer they are $12 per pill with a minimum order of 50.

"I ship from Delaware within two days," he told the I-Team, "via UPS or FedEx. I ship and provide you tracking number after payment is confirm. Please kindly place your order and get back to me."

The seller declined to do an interview and asked if the I-Team were police.

Fentanyl is a powerful drug used by physicians to treat chronic, acute pain in cancer patients and is not legally available without a prescription from a doctor.

"They're little, little changes in the fentanyl molecule which makes it a different chemical. And, sadly, it takes this really strong opioid and makes it even stronger," Dr. Richard Jorgensen, DuPage County Coroner, said.

"It's truly a Russian roulette when you're messing around with heroin and fentanyl on the street because of its potency and you don't know who made it," Wichern said.

The heroin antidote Naloxone has saved numerous lives when injected by authorities during an overdose. However, these new super-fentanyl drugs are more resistant to that antidote. According to doctors, overdose victims may need as many as four Naloxone shots to prevent death, and it isn't a sure thing.
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