Thursday, April 20, 2006

Police hunt source of laced heroin

Chicago Tribune

A suspicious batch of heroin is suspected in the overdoses Wednesday of 25 people, including one who died, on Chicago's South and West Sides, police said.

Police suspect the heroin may have been laced with Fentanyl, a prescription drug often used in anesthesia.

More than 60 people have overdosed and 11 people have died from heroin since August, police said. It was yet not known if the earlier incidents also may have been caused by tainted drugs.

One of the victims in the latest incident was Alberta Morris, whose body was found about 4:15 p.m. yesterday at her home in the 7000 block of South Racine Avenue, according to Englewood District Lt. Robert Duewerth.

Morris, 51, was pronounced dead at 9:40 p.m. Wednesday at the Cook County medical examiner's office, according to a spokesman. An initial investigation indicated a heroin overdose, and an autopsy was scheduled.

The ages of people involved in Wednesday's overdoses ranged from 17 to 73, according to Chicago police Supt. Phil Cline, who spoke at a news conference today alongside local health officials and federal drug control agents.

He said 17 of the overdoses occurred near the Ida B. Wells housing project on the South Side. Seven people have been taken into custody in connection with the drugs, but no charges have been filed, Cline said.

Officials said they believe the blend is coming into Chicago already cut with Fentanyl, and they are working together to find out who is making it.

Yesterday's incident is the latest in a string of heroin overdoses in the city and suburbs. Last week, seven people collapsed on the 4100 block of West 21st Place after what police and fire officials said appeared to be overdoses from bad heroin passed out for free by a drug dealer.

Police officials said a similar incident occurred recently near Monroe Street and Cicero Avenue, also on the city's West Side. In both cases, dealers were trying attract new customers with the handouts.

In February, police warned that a drug being passed off as heroin near the Dearborn Homes public housing complex between 2700 and 3000 South Dearborn Street was actually Fentanyl.

In the suburbs, heroin use has become increasingly common in young adults, officials have warned.

Between 1995 and 2004, teen hospitalizations for the drug increased by about 130 percent in suburban Cook County and by about 430 percent in the collar counties, according to Kathleen Kane-Willis, a researcher at Roosevelt University's Institute for Metropolitan Affairs.

Four young people from Prospect Heights have died of suspected or confirmed heroin overdoses within the last year, according to authorities.

Experts say heroin's growing popularity stems from its relatively cheap price of about $10 a dose, easy availability and potency. Competition among dealers has increased the purity so much that novice users can get high simply by snorting the drug.

Earlier this week, Chicago police announced they have shut down two open-air drug markets and charged 25 people in separate undercover operations in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side. Both markets supplied heroin and crack cocaine to customers and were run by local street gangs.


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