Medical examiner reports rise in fentanyl-related deaths in Cook County

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Chicago medical officials blame a deadly mix of heroin on at least 40 deaths this year, and that number may soon increase.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office said heroin is being mixed with the synthetic opiod agent 'fentanyl.'

In October, 74 people overdosed on heroin in 72 hours in Chicago and those toxicology reports are still being processed. 

One addict says the supply of heroin laced with fentanyl never goes away on the street, but sometimes becomes easier to find.

Jordan Nicolosi has been using heroin for 15 years and has tried rehab before. On Monday, FOX 32 met with him before he entered treatment again.

“It just takes a hold of you and takes everything away from you,” said Nicolosi.

He eventually went in search of a better high after using heroin for many years, which is when he found fentanyl. 

“There's no safe supply, there's no good supply,” said Director of Medical Toxicology for Loyola University Medical Center, Dr. Christina Hantsch.

She said that they see heroin overdoses on a daily basis in their emergency department.

“That recent exposure is still of concern, there is still concern that it is in the supply,” said Dr. Hantsch.

Fentanyl is prescribed by doctors for chronic pain relief, but the dose given is much lower. It can be 50-100 times more potent than morphine, especially when combined with heroin.

“When you mix those two together, it's always bad news, it's never good,” said Michael Young, an outreach coordinator for 'A Man in Recovery Foundation,' who works to provide support for addicts and their families.

“Sometimes our phone goes off 2,3,4 in the morning and you have to answer that call," he added.

On Monday, Young picked up Nicolosi and brought him to a treatment center.

Last year, there were 633 heroin overdose deaths in Illinois, which is up from 2013.

In Cook County, heroin overdose deaths have leveled out in recent years with around 275 a year.

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