Illinois overdoses are sky high, getting worse, federal public health investigators say

An increasingly popular tactic is to use fentanyl test strips on recreational drugs before using them.

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Ross Weidner and Maggie Green WLS logo
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Illinois overdoses are sky high, getting worse, investigators say
What is fentanyl used for? Opioid overdose statistics show an increase in deaths in Illinois, federal public health investigators said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The opioid crisis is a public health epidemic taking lives at an alarming rate, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"They go to open air drug markets and they take whatever is in that bag. And it's really a problem. You know, the quality of heroin and the dosages, you really have no idea what's in that bag, or what's in those pills," said Jim O'Connor, executive director of the Pathway to Sobriety Program.

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What's in the illicit drugs usually is fentanyl. Used by medical professionals, it's an effective, high-powered pain killer. As a hidden and bootleg additive in street drugs, it is a deadly heart-stopper.

"Fentanyl is becoming pretty prevalent in in the area, as an additive," Dr. Stephen Spontak, emergency physician at Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital, told the I-Team.

The most recent annual data obtained by the I-Team from the CDC reveal nearly 2,900 deaths in Illinois from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. That number is more than a 16% spike compared to the previous year, and almost 35% more than the year before that. Federal investigators suspect that is an under-count due to incomplete data.

"You have the leading cause of death for 18-to-45-year-olds, opioids," said Theo Krzywicki, End Overdose Founder and CEO.

An increasingly popular tactic is to test recreational drugs before using them, to make sure they don't kill.

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"If you pretend it doesn't exist, you're really just fooling yourself, because this problem. Our kids are being targeted at younger ages," Mark Raber told the I-Team.

His son, Dennis, died from a fentanyl overdose in 2018.