(CHICAGO) Dozens of gang members on Chicago’s West Side are now facing charges of selling fentanyl-laced heroin.
The Eisenhower Expressway has become known, by some, as the “Heroin Highway” with people exiting, buying drugs and then getting right back on the Ike a block or two away.
Sixty-five people have been arrested for selling drugs, including heroin-laced fentanyl, 18 of them in federal court.
U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon says of the 3.8 kilograms of heroin recovered, 148 grams were laced with fentanyl.
“Two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal. To put it in perspective, when you’re at the restaurant and there’s a sugar packet on your table that your kid is playing with that’s a thousand milligrams. Two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal. So, lacing any heroin with fentanyl is a very, very dangerous proposition,” said Fardon.
While deaths in Chicago and across the country have been linked to fentanyl-laced heroin, Fardon says there are no death charges in the latest complaints.
Various drugs, as well as guns and cash, have been seized as part of the 2-year long “Operation Sweet Dreams.”
(CHICAGO) At first, the Chicago pharmacy sales rep had serious doubts about her ability to persuade a particular doctor in her region to start prescribing her company’s powerful painkiller.
“He is extremely moody, lazy and inattentive,” she wrote to her boss in a September 2012 email.
But then the rep and her supervisor took the doctor out for lunch, followed by drinks at a popular rooftop bar downtown.
Before long, the physician was eagerly prescribing the fentanyl spray Subsys, according to a federal indictment handed down this month, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting. In exchange, the doctor allegedly received $70,800 in bribes and kickbacks from now-former executives and managers with the drug’s maker, Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.
The Illinois doctor is not named in the indictment, referred to only as “practitioner #6.”
The doctor is one of 10 medical professionals nationwide who allegedly were given bribes and kickbacks as part of a racketeering scheme that led to charges in December against six former Insys executives and managers. Neither the Illinois doctor nor any of the other practitioners is charged in the indictment.
“Patient safety is paramount and prescriptions for these highly addictive drugs, especially fentanyl, which is among the most potent and addictive opioids, should be prescribed without the influence of corporate money,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a written statement. “I hope that today’s charges send a clear message that we will continue to attack the opioid epidemic from all angles, whether its corporate greed or street level dealing.”
The indictment alleges that Michael L. Babich, 40, the former CEO and president of the company, along with five others, conspired to bribe practitioners in various states to prescribe Subsys, a powerful narcotic intended to treat cancer paints dealing with intense pain. In exchange for the bribes and kickbacks, the doctors allegedly wrote large numbers of prescriptions for the patients — most not even cancer patients.
“The charges against individuals discussed in the DOJ press release relate to previously disclosed investigations,” according to an Insys statement posted on the company website. “Insys continues to cooperate with all relevant authorities in its ongoing investigations and is committed to complying with laws and regulations that govern our products and business practices.”
According to the indictment, in 2012, there were as many as 2 million patients nationwide suffering from the cancer pain Subsys sought to treat. But the market was crowded with similar drugs. To gain an edge, the drug company began aggressively targeting pain clinics.
Sales reps arranged for doctors to speak at special events — often high-priced restaurants — to tout the benefits of Subsys to other doctors. But often the events were simply an opportunity for the speaker to enjoy a night out with office staff and friends, the indictments states. The doctor was then paid a “fee” for speaking, the indictment states.
“They do not need to be good speakers, they need to write lots of [Subsys prescriptions],” one of the charged executives is quoted as saying in a text to one of his sales reps.
The plan involved recruiting “practitioners known to have questionable prescribing habits,” the indictment states.
But the Chicago-area sales rep assigned to the Illinois doctor initially had some reservations.
He “runs a very shady pill mill and only accepts cash,” she wrote on Sept. 17, 2012 in an email to her boss. “He basically just shows up to sign his name on the prescription pad, if he shows up at all.”
But less than a month later, after the sales rep and her supervisor met over lunch and then drinks, the doctor was soon on board. Between February 2013 and July 2015, “insurers and pharmacy benefit managers authorized payment for approximately 1,601 Fentanyl Spray prescriptions written by Practitioner #6,” according to the indictment.
(CHICAGO) As investigators work to pinpoint the cause of a rash of heroin overdoses that sent at least 74 people to hospitals in 72 hours last week, the flareup triggered memories of a deadly 2006 overdose epidemic.
“Fentanyl was the first thing that popped into my mind,” former Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline said about hearing of the recent overdoses.
Heroin laced with Fentanyl, a painkiller that is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, was responsible for a rash of fatal overdoses in early 2006.
“The craziest thing back then was that when other addicts heard people were overdosing, they ran to find the stuff right away because they wanted the most powerful high,” Cline said Sunday. “They think other people’s tolerance is low and they can get that high without going over the edge. But they’re wrong.”
Cline said that in 2006, almost immediately, his officers began interviewing people who had overdosed about where they’d bought their drugs and undercover police began buying the drugs for testing, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
The information was passed along, and within months, investigators with the Drug Enforcement Agency were able to trace the tainted heroin to a single lab in Mexico that was ultimately raided and shut down, Cline said.
However, dozens of Fentanyl-related deaths were recorded in Cook County in 2005 and 2006. Other cities around the country dealt with the problem as well.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, street names for Fentanyl include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash.
Cline said Sunday that many of the same tactics will likely be used to figure out how, during a stretch lasting from Wednesday through Friday, at least 74 people overdosed and ended up at hospitals mostly of the West Side.
Some of them were found with needles still sticking out of their arms, health officials said.
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed Sunday that shoe leather is being expended.
“Investigators are hitting the pavement and trying to determine what the actual source is, if this is a tainted batch, and, if so, what it’s tainted with,” he said.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has made finding the source behind the overdoses a priority, said Guglielmi, who added that top commanders plan to update McCarthy on their findings Monday morning.
Updated numbers on any weekend overdoses in the area were not available Sunday. Health officials stated Saturday that the frequency of cases had declined.
“Hospitals continue to evaluate patients who have overdosed, but the rate at which they are presenting at the hospitals has slowed down,” said Cristina Villarreal, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Meanwhile, paramedics have armed themselves with additional Narcan, a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.
In addition, investigators are waiting for toxicology results in what police suspect is the drug-related death of a 49-year-old man foundThursday in an apartment in the East Garfield Park neighborhood.
Earlier this summer, many Chicagoans were shocked by a photo included in a federal court filing that showed a line of people extending down a West Side block who were waiting to buy heroin in broad daylight.
The photo was taken in the 3700 block of West Grenshaw, just south of the Eisenhower Expressway, which has come to be known as “Heroin Highway” because of the accessibility it provides to city and suburban heroin customers.
Earlier this year, the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University released a report that said Illinois ranked 44th in the nation in 2012 in state-funded treatment admissions for heroin addiction. And Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget would cut state-funded treatment 61 percent, excluding Medicaid, the report warned.
The report also noted that the Chicago metropolitan area was ranked first in the nation in the number of people admitted to emergency rooms because of heroin use. And Cook County was first for the number of arrestees who tested positive for the drug.
“Whatever it is that’s going around, you just hope they can find out whose putting this stuff out there and put a stop to it or else there’s going to be a lot of deaths,” Cline said. “The addicts think they can handle it but they can’t.”