Powerful Batch of Heroin in Chicago Led to 74 Overdoses in 72 Hours

By Zachary Siegel 10/05/15

Could fentanyl be the driving force behind the spike of overdoses?

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Heroin purchased on Chicago’s West Side was the cause of 74 overdoses in just 72 hours. The powerful batch of heroin was believed to be cut with the painkiller fentanyl, a potent narcotic estimated to be 40 to 50 times stronger than pharmaceutical grade heroin.

Cook County health and law enforcement officials are currently investigating at least one death linked to the streak of heroin overdoses. If it weren’t for the life-saving opioid antagonist naloxone, many more of these unsuspecting drug users would have died.

Diane Hincks of Mount Sinai Hospital told the Chicago Tribune that, “They’re taking double and triple the doses of Narcan in order to bring them out of their stupor.”

Once naloxone was administered, users who required additional treatment were sent to local hospitals. Additional doses of naloxone have now been supplied to first responders.

The number of overdoses from the drug was more than double the amount experienced in the city from the same time span last year. In 2014, 633 heroin overdose deaths occurred in Illinois, up from 583 in 2013. Last year in greater Chicago, 283 people died from overdosing on heroin.

This latest rash of overdose is a recurring nightmare for the city of Chicago. Back in 2006, the same influx of heroin overdose occurred where fentanyl was the culprit. There were more than 1,000 drug deaths between 2005 and 2007, many of which were attributed to fentanyl.

“We suspect what is happening is the same thing that happened in 2006 when people were getting heroin that was cut with fentanyl, which is a very strong narcotic,” said Hincks.

Dan Bigg of the Chicago Recovery Alliance told the Tribune that during this time “the best thing would be to have [naloxone], and watch each other’s backs.”

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.