Killer High: Fentanyl-laced heroin overdoses spike in city, suburbs

An ABC7 I-Team Exclusive
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Super-strength heroin laced with the world's most powerful painkiller has caused many more overdoses than was widely reported. More than 100 users have overdosed in Chicago alone the past couple of weeks.

It's known a "killer high" - heroin jacked-up with fentanyl, a synthetic pain killer that is eighty times stronger than morphine. Users unaccustomed to the potency can die.

In late September and early October, federal drug enforcement officials said 118 people overdosed in Chicago. They lived, others have died. At least a dozen deaths in the suburbs are thought to be from fentanyl-laced heroin.

"There's never a good batch of heroin," said Dennis Wichern, Drug Enforcement Administration.

The special agent in charge of the Chicago DEA office said the batch of heroin that caused so many overdoses was especially bad.

Sold mainly here on the West Side, where curb-service drugs have been a problem for decades, the stat originally reported was 74 OD's in 72 hours. That's now surpassed by the new data, showing there were dozens more.

"If you don't make the cut right, if you don't dilute it enough and a user is used to 5 or 10% heroin and then you super charge them with maybe 90 percent heroin and fentanyl and you're going to run the risk of overdose that just happened last week," Wichern said.

Between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, dozens of users collapsed immediately after mainlining the mixture. Some users showed up at hospitals with needles still stuck in their arms.

One hundred and eighteen overdose cases in Chicago - triple the usual number - and their lives were saved by the new opiate antidote, Narcan, although some victims required huge amounts.

Fentanyl, the synthetic pain med used to spike heroin here, has been tentatively traced to China and Southeast Asia, according to DEA officials. They say the cancer pain treatment was likely mailed to drug dealers in Chicago, where they used it to doctor the heroin.

It's sold on the street in these small packets, under drug slang names such as "new world", "shine" and "bingo".

Two West Side men, identified by police as gang members, were arrested last weekend after Chicago Police say they sold $720 worth of fentanyl-fortified heroin to undercover officers. Both men are free on bond and due back in court later this month.

Suburban coroners report a surge in deadly heroin overdoses since mid-September. There were seven deaths in DuPage County, five in Kane County, and Lake and McHenry counties are waiting on toxicology from several deaths.

Cook County's medical examiner said testing won't be complete on possible cases here until at least next month.
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