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Coroner Says Fentanyl Deaths 'Skyrocketed' In Winnebago County in 2017

Drug Enforcement Administration
Heroin, Carfentanil, and Fentanyl Lethal Dose Close Up

A northern Illinois coroner is growing increasingly worried about the breakdown of drugs related to overdose deaths.

According to Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz, 124 deaths were attributed to drug overdose last year compared with 96 in 2016.

Of those, he says there was a noticeable increase in deaths involving fentanyl with seven in 2016 and 63 in 2017. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 50 times more potent than heroin.

"I don’t believe that these people realize how dangerous they are," Hintz said. "I don’t think that they realize what is being mixed into the drug that they are buying.”

He says the number of fentanyl-related deaths began to jump starting in July through the end of the year.

The office reported more than 40 different drugs that factored into drug overdose deaths. A pair of deaths were associated with carfentanil, which also is a synthetic opioid, but even more potent than fentanyl.

2017 Overdose by Drug - Winnebago County
The chart above shows the distribution of the 40+ drugs found in the blood of overdose victims in Winnebago County in 2017.

Also alarming, Hintz says, is the combination of drugs being reported. He says it’s becoming more common to see three or four different drugs in the system at the time of death.

Additionally, he cautions against using opioid-reversal drugs, like Narcan, as a "fail safe" measure to prevent overdose deaths.

“You give the Narcan and you bring the person around, and you are like ‘Okay, everything’s good and no problems,’" Hintz said. "But when that Narcan wears off and you still have enough of that drug in your system, you can definitely overdose again.”

Hintz projects drug deaths will continue to increase in 2018.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.