CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County officials were trying to raise awareness about a powerful opioid, much stronger than heroin, that has been responsible for at least 40 fatal overdoses this year in Cook County alone.
Doctors at Stroger Hospital were warning about new synthetic versions of fentanyl, a powerful opioid pain killer that can be purchased legally online. However, it is being mixed in a deadly cocktail with heroin and cocaine, sending drug overdoses skyrocketing.
Fentanyl is commonly used in patch form to treat very sick patients, but synthetic analogues in powder form have been mixed with street drugs to create an extremely powerful and often deadly cocktail.
“Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are very powerful drugs that are likely to be lethal,” said Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, Cook County’s Chief Medical Examiner. “Just one dose can easily stop a person from breathing, causing immediate death.”
In 2015, Cook County had 103 fentanyl-related deaths. In 2016, that number jumped to 562.
Doctors at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said, through April 8, there have been 44 deaths in Cook County attributed to fentanyl.
They said one dose of naloxone usually revives a person who has overdosed on heroin, but it can take as many as four doses to stabilize someone who has ingested fentanyl.
“It is similar to heroin, because it is an opioid. It has the same effects as heroin, but much faster,” Arunkumar said. “It crosses the blood-brain barrier easily. It’s about 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin.”