Fentanyl, latest drug of choice, adds to death toll

Posted1/28/2017 2:00 PM

Fentanyl. It was described by a suburban coroner as "heroin on steroids."

And despite the scores of stories we're done in the past few years on the increase in deaths by heroin and other opioids, many of which I edited, "fentanyl" just wasn't ringing a bell.


Turns out it is a relatively new phenomenon in the world of drugs that can kill. As Marie Wilson reported in Friday's editions, fentanyl long has been in post-surgical use by hospitals or in patch form for patients in chronic pain.

But now the synthetic drug is being smuggled into the country and sold as heroin or used to spike heroin. Its appeal to some users is that it provides an intense high similar to the one they got when starting on heroin.

The problem, of course, is that the mystery of whether one is shooting heroin or fentanyl or a combination thereof makes fatal overdoses more common, as fentanyl is far more potent than heroin, experts say. As a result, while the number of heroin fatalities remained fairly steady between 2015 and last year, the deaths attributed at least in part to fentanyl contributed to a big jump in overall opioid deaths.

For instance, heroin-related deaths in suburban Cook County increased from 128 to 158, but after adding the fentanyl statistic, the total climbs to 199 deaths. In DuPage County, heroin-related fatalities went from 43 to 62 last year, but when fentanyl is factored in, the number is 78.

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The lessons from all this are that it's a never-ending challenge to be aware of the volume and intensity of the drugs and first responders and families with addicts likely need to carry more overdose reversal drugs, such as naloxone.

For three years, Marie has been covering this evolving drug scourge, and more recently, how intertwined drug problems are with mental illness. The sad truth appears to be that it's a story without an end. But it's an important issue -- one that we're compelled to report.

Blanket coverage

Unless time, circumstance or breaking news intervenes, we plan to cover a heartwarming story for our Monday editions.

Twins born 100 days prematurely, and given a 10 percent chance of surviving, will soon mark their 16th birthdays. Getting there was no mean feat. The girls suffered bleeding on their brains, surgeries and years of treatment to ensure proper development. Both still face numerous physical challenges, but they're all about giving back.

Today, they, their family and friends will make baby blankets to donate to the hospital they say saved their lives. Their goal is to make 100 blankets -- one for each day they were born prematurely.


I assigned staff writer Lauren Rohr to this story. She immediately saw its potential.

"Love this story!" she said. "That sounds great."

Fake News

A term that I'd swear wasn't around six months ago now appears to be taking center stage. Fake News has become a problem so widespread that, at least in the suburbs, librarians are compelled to take it on.

Last week, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library hosted a seminar on, as staff writer Jamie Sotonoff put it, "how to find credible news amid the proliferation of fake news." Four library staff members gave a presentation that encouraged the 50 or so attendees to "constantly play the devil's advocate" with all news they consume.

You also might be interested in a fake news detection session at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Gail Borden Library, 270 N. Grove Ave. in Elgin. The program will be live-streamed at gailborden.info/fakenews. Guests are moderator Bob Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Association; Katie Hauser, Elgin High School librarian; Margaret Peebles, Gail Borden public librarian; Veronda Pitchford, librarian for Reaching Across Illinois Library System; and Jim Davis, DuPage/Fox Valley news director for the Daily Herald.

Hey, that's me! Hope to see you there.


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