A dangerous batch of heroin circulating throughout the city of Chicago has caused a record-breaking 74 overdoses in the span of just three days. When the numbers began to climb at such an astonishing rate, medical professionals began to suspect a batch of bad heroin was involved.
Deadly Heroin Hits the Streets
What made this heroin so particularly deadly? Turns out it was cut with fentanyl, a frighteningly strong opiate narcotic. Fentanyl is used in extreme situations; it’s 50 times more powerful than morphine. Combined with heroin, it’s a concoction that can be deadly.
As an opiate, fentanyl produces a state of relaxation or euphoria. It is often used an as anesthetic and depresses, or slows, body systems down.
Heroin also depresses the central nervous system, including the brain. Combined, these two drugs prompt body systems to not only slow down, but grind to a halt.
The heroin/fentanyl combo is also one that sets in quickly. Effects are felt almost instantly and collapse occurs in a matter of seconds. Simply put; most people don’t realize they’ve injected a lethal mixture until it’s too late. As a matter of fact, many of the 74 Chicagoans recently affected were found with needles still in their arms.
Naloxone to the Rescue
Emergency responders in Chicago treated the overdoses with the opiate overdose antidote known as naloxone. Paramedics in the city are faced with enough opiate overdose cases that the drug is now kept on-hand. (Chicago leads the nation in heroin-related emergency room visits.)
Unfortunately, the normal counter-action achieved by one dose of Narcan has not been the experience in these recent cases. Emergency personnel reported that it’s taking double and triple doses to bring people back from the brink.
Similar events occurred several years ago, when fentanyl-related incidents resulted in 1000 deaths across the country, including dozens in Chicago. These tragedies happened over a period of about two years.
Officials hope to trace the source of these drugs and get them out of circulation. They hope to prevent these overdoses from turning into the first wave of yet another nationwide opioid epidemic. In a preventative effort, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Chicago police have teamed up to contain the overdoses. Chicago law enforcement has made some headway, identifying potential sources of distribution on the city’s West Side.
This most recent outbreak has added dramatically to already staggering numbers. The Illinois Department of Health reported rises in statewide heroin overdose deaths for the past four years. Heroin overdose resulted in 633 Illinois deaths in 2014 alone. Efforts continue on all fronts – law enforcement, medical, and social services, to increase awareness of the dangers of heroin use.
Meanwhile, the Chicago emergency medical services division reported their first responders will now carry extra doses of naloxone. The U.S. Drug Administration also issued a nationwide alert back in March as a response to fentanyl and heroin related overdose deaths that took place in other states.
Additional Reading: Taking Action: How to Intervene During an Overdose
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