(CBS) — Fentanyl is a drug more powerful than heroin.
It started as a painkiller for cancer patients. Now, it’s a street drug being manufactured in illegal pill labs by drug cartels and it is killing users.
One of the lives recently lost is a young Glen Ellyn woman. Her family is heartbroken and wanted to share their story to spread awareness of this drug’s popularity and dangers.
Barret Kruse found his 22-year-old daughter Rebecca Moore-Kruse collapsed in her bedroom last February.
“I saw that she was not the right color I saw that her face was black blue,” he says.
The former Maine West High School honor student overdosed on a drug that is sweeping the nation. According to a DuPage County autopsy report she died of pure fentanyl poisoning.
“She’s dead, because of this because of this fentanyl,” Kruse says.
Moore-Kruse had been in recovery and sober for 10 months. She had just passed a drug test two weeks prior to using the fentanyl that killed her.
“She shot up yeah she was using needles which was horrific,” says her stepmother JoAnn Genette.
Fentanyl is produced as pharmaceutical and used frequently with a doctor’s prescription to help relieve intense pain often for terminally ill patients. Drug cartels and gangs are manufacturing more potent versions of fentanyl, engineered to be even more potent than the prescription form.
Authorities say it is now similar to other synthetic drugs which can be modified in labs and there’s no telling just how potent the street version can be, especially when it’s mixed with heroin or disguised as other drugs like Hydrocodone or Xanax.
“It looks like you’re buying a Xanax pill, but it’s actually fentanyl. They’re stamping it so it looks like a Xanax pill,” says Mike Young, a recovering addict who is working with patients in recovery. “They’re (drug dealers) being creative.”
Young also says his brother Andrew overdosed from a heroin-fentanyl mix in 2008 in Johnsburg, Illinois.
“The effects of it being mixed with heroin for the first time trying it, it killed him,” says Young.
James Perkins, a former Chicago street gang member and former drug dealer says he never used or sold fentanyl but other dealers would use it turn one kilo of heroin into two.
“The bottom line is money,” he says. “If you can control the streets, you are going to get rich and everyone wants to be rich,” says Perkins who is also sober and working to help addicts get help. Perkins says dealers will even convert gel from prescription fentanyl patches into powder form.
Coroner Rich Jorgensen says DuPage County had 17 fentanyl-related deaths last year and is on pace for even more this year.
“Unfortunately our young kids end up on tables like this,” says Jorgensen.
What scares Jorgensen is how drug cartels are manipulating the potency and molecular structure of this deadly synthetic drug.
“The newest scare is that the chemists that are making the fentanyl are starting to modify the fentanyl drug to where we have what are called analogues, or other types of fentanyl. Now we are actually starting to see people that are dying of just pure fentanyl. So just taking fentanyl not morphine or heroin,” say Jorgensen.
CBS 2 obtained Cook County Medical Examiner records revealing 21 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, a number that skyrocketed in 2015 to 105 deaths.
“We’re tired of seeing the dead bodies, the scared families, the destroyed siblings,” says Dennis Wichern, head of the DEA’s Chicago region.
He says fentanyl is 20-100 times more powerful than heroin.
“When they take heroin laced with fentanyl the purity goes way up and it just over taxes their body and that’s where you get the overdoses and the deaths,” he says.
Rebecca Moor-Kruse’s phone showed she placed an order to a dealer who actually delivered to her doorstep.
“Her heart exploded instantly, you might as well put a loaded gun in your mouth and pull the trigger because that’s what you’re doing,” says her stepmother JoAnn Genette.