By Suzanne Le Mignot

CHICAGO (CBS) — Jay Banks died of a heroin overdose — heroin laced with a deadly substance. He is one of nearly 2,000 in Cook County. Now his family and a state lawmaker say not enough is being done to punish those adding a deadly mixture to the illegal drug.

“Jay was our older brother. He was our protector,” said Jay’s sister Gloria Banks.

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She said Banks died in December of last year. His younger brother, Shaun Banks, said the 61-year-old former marine’s cause of death was from the synthetic opioid fentanyl

“It was mostly fentanyl. It was, like I said, 3% heroin,” he said.

Data from the Cook County Medical Examiner shows there were almost double the number of deaths from opioid overdoses than from homicides in Cook County in 2020 with 1,809 opioid deaths and 977 homicides.

Jay’s sister has a problem with her brother’s death being ruled an accident.

“If you are given a lethal mixture of these drugs that is murder,” she said. “It is not an accident to me. You’re blaming the victim and not the drug dealer who has sold these lethal mixtures of drugs, so we want justice. Something has to be done about it.”

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Gloria Banks will be speaking at a hearing Tuesday being held by State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-5th). 

“The medical examiner is not describing this death adequately for our community. We feel like it’s an error,” Van Pelt said. “The death certificate says it’s an accident, so there’s no law enforcement engagement.”

A spokesperson for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office gave the following statement on how opioid deaths are classified:

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office provides medical determinations for deaths that fall under our jurisdiction. In the case of an opioid overdose death, we rule based on evidence as to whether the decedent took the drug(s) with the intent to inflict self-harm (suicide), for recreational purposes (accident) or whether the decedent was forced to ingest the drug(s) (homicide). Legal determinations may differ.

Van Pelt, who is also the chairman of the Illinois Senate Healthcare Access and Availability Committee said many of the communities in her district, located in Cook County, have been impacted by the opioid epidemic. She points to DuPage County as a model that Cook County could follow.

“They’ve done a great job of busting up opioid rings and actually, not only dealing with the doctors like you said in the drug companies and the pharmacist, but going all the way down the line,” she said. “I think everyone should be held responsible because this is murder.”

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“I have brought cases against death dealing drug dealers for drug induced homicide and other related charges,” said DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin. “My office also pursued one of the state’s first RICO cases against a heroin drug tracking ring. The case brought a nearly two-year investigation to a close with 31 individuals arrested, the mastermind of the organization sentenced to twenty years of prison time, and the shutdown of a criminal enterprise trafficking over $1 million in yearly illicit drug sales.”

Suzanne Le Mignot