Fentanyl Adds Deadly New Gamble to Heroin OD Roulette

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The Chicago Tribune says the addition of man-made opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil to heroin is driving a spike in overdoses in the Chicago area and nationwide. The powerful synthetics are now found in about 40 percent of the heroin sold in that city. That means users are consuming drugs stronger than they can handle, often without knowing what they’re putting into their bodies. “I believe that’s contributing to the increase in deaths,” said DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen, whose jurisdiction has seen 23 fentanyl-related fatalities this year, compared to 13 involving heroin alone. “How do you as a dealer or user know the strength of your drug?”

Fentanyl patches have long been used as a treatment for chronic pain, but starting around 1980, dealers began mixing the drug and its close cousins into the heroin supply, causing irregular outbreaks of overdose deaths. The synthetics hit Chicago hard in the mid-2000s, when about 350 people died within 20 months. Synthetics flared again about four years ago. Death often follows when those drugs circulate, but in the perverse world of heroin sales, that’s like putting up a Times Square billboard. “It’s the best advertising they can have,” said Anthony Riccio of the Chicago police organized crime bureau. “The true addicts want that (powerful) high. When word gets around, business booms.”

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