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More People Died From Fentanyl Overdoses Than Homicides In Cook County In 2019

CHICAGO (CBS) -- More people died from fentanyl overdoses in Cook County last year than from homicide.

The finding comes from the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot spoke on Wednesday to some people who are dealing with the reality of the tragedy on the city's West Side every day.

"We lost three people last weekend - in one weekend - to overdoses," said Dan Hostetler, executive director of the Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, at 2942 W. Lake St. in East Garfield Park. "They evidently got something off the street, that didn't… was toxic!"

Above and Beyond offers drug addiction treatment - free of charge. While Hostetler finds the total number of 789 fentanyl overdoses in 2019 in Cook County tragic, he also said, "I have to say I'm not shocked by it."

Why isn't he?

"We have boots on the ground that give us experiential evidence that this is happening," he said. "We see it."

The Medical Examiner's office said there were 580 people killed by guns last year in Cook County, compared to 789 who died from fentanyl toxicity.

Le Mignot asked community activist the Rev. Robin Hood whom he thinks should be targeted.

"The open market, in the streets of Chicago," Hood replied. "With that many people dying, that's nothing but mass murder. That's nothing different than a mass killer."

Hood is a community activist on the West Side, an area that has seen the highest number of overdose deaths.

CBS 2's Dana Kozlov witnessed an overdose firsthand in East Garfield Park last April. The man Kozlov tried to help was one of 20 people who overdosed on the West Side just that one day.

Three of them died.

People living in the community said they believed the rash of overdoses was from heroin laced with fentanyl – which is known to be 50 times more powerful than heroin alone.

"I'm afraid to ask what happened in 2018, 2017, 2016," Hood said.

There was been a dramatic jump through those years.

In 2016, there were 560 deaths from fentanyl toxicity. In 2017, there were 669. In 2018, there were 847.

The use of Narcan may be one of the reasons why there were 58 fewer fentanyl overdoses in 2019. Above and Beyond offers training to patients on how to use Narcan and gives them kits.

"I believe to date, our count right now, is five lives have been saved through these kits, since 2016," Hostetler said.

Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Bell released the following statement about the fentanyl crisis in Chicago:

"The opioid and fentanyl epidemic is the greatest public safety threat to our nation's citizens and is DEA's priority. The enforcement priorities of the Drug Enforcement Administration are aligned with the most significant public safety and health threats to Chicagoland residents.

"The DEA and its federal, state and local partners aggressively focus their collective resources on the Mexican cartels that are responsible for smuggling and distributing most of the fentanyl that makes it into Chicagoland neighborhoods. The DEA is also fully committed to bringing the mid-level, violent criminal organizations that sell fentanyl, and other heinous substances, to justice.

"The DEA will continue to closely coordinate with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to bring these criminal networks to justice and to save lives."

Chicago Police released this statement from News Affairs Sgt. Michael J. Malinowski:

"Any deaths related to fentanyl or other illegal drugs are a tragic loss for families here in Chicago and throughout all of Cook County. Chicago Police Department Narcotics Officers continue to work together with CPD District personnel as well as neighboring police departments, county, state, and federal partners on this deadly problem.

"Our goal is to identify the locations and people responsible for the distribution of these dangerous drugs and to hold them accountable while looking for opportunities to provide help, outreach, and city services for those at risk of using these dangerous substances."

The Medical Examiner's office said it is important to note that the 2019 numbers are preliminary. The office is still awaiting the results for 527 cases.

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