Free Heroin Samples Linked To Overdoses, Reports Say

By Keri Blakinger 07/14/17

A round of free drug samples led to a slew of overdoses in Chicago.

patient on gurney being transferred from ambulance to hospital

Free samples of heroin sparked a string of overdoses in Chicago over the weekend, according to local reports. 

Although there’s a person of interest in the case, no one has been arrested after a man reportedly drove through the city’s South Side in a 2001 Chevrolet Impala, doling out the drugs near 79th and East End, according to NBC Chicago.

Eight people were hospitalized as a result of the sinister free samples campaign.

“They all passed out as a result of taking the bag,” Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson said afterward. Although a woman was taken into custody, authorities are still on the hunt for the male driver who caused the chaos. 

Police did not offer information as to whether any adulterant like fentanyl or carfentanil may have been behind the overdoses, and it’s not clear why the man was handing out samples.

"Sometimes dealers will use the strategy of giving some to people who find them, but to actually drive around and solicit people to take free samples, I don't think I've ever heard of that," a baffled Hazelden Betty Ford Executive Director Ramsen Kasha told the station.

Authorities did not offer a description of the man in the Impala, but did explain that so many overdoses in such a short time is unusual. 

“It’s not common to see that many overdoses so quickly, so that’s what brought that to our attention,” Johnson said Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Some area residents said they weren’t surprised by the disquieting wave of overdoses. 

“Being in this neighborhood with that going on, man it's like there's no hope," Deandre Williams told the TV station. "We just continue to live here but at the end of the day, yeah I want better. Yeah, I want to move to a nice home. Yeah, I want to be in the suburbs. But at the current pay rate, I can't do it. So I keep my baby boy out the street and I stay out of the streets."

The overdoses came in the midst of several drug, traffic and anti-violence sweeps over the weekend in select parts of the city. 

The operations netted 32 felony drug and gun arrests, 30 traffic citations and 20 violation notices for party buses. At least 78 guns were seized across the violence-plagued city. Three of the weapons came from a Friday shooting at Near West Side’s United Center that ended with two in custody and no injuries. 

“Again, this speaks to the ridiculous culture here in Chicago where individuals are settling arguments with senseless gun violence,” Johnson said.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.