PEORIA — Within the past two days, three people have died from a highly potent form of fentanyl that is also being found in cocaine, police said Thursday.
Peoria Police Chief Jerry Mitchell called that a "game changer," because people who use cocaine regularly tend not to carry Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of heroin and other opioids. The chief led a quickly called news conference Thursday afternoon, two days after he and others at the Peoria Police Department learned about the drug.
In essence, it's causing people who thought they were using one drug to use another and far more dangerous one.
"It changes the image a lot for people who do not expect to have that in a recreation drug or drugs that they depend upon. This is here and we have to deal with it," he said.
The new drug is just the latest in the ongoing opioid crisis that has hit the nation. In Peoria, Mitchell said there has been a sharp increase in the number of overdose victims since 2015. By Dec. 7 of that year, there were 57. So far this year, there have been 252. Assistant Chief Loren Marion noted that since Dec. 4, there have been 11 overdoses with three fatalities.
Two men died in a house on Western Avenue as a part of the fentanyl-laced cocaine. A third person, on Moss Avenue, died after taking a powder version of the new fentanyl. Capt. Mike Mushinsky said part of the danger is that the new type of fentanyl looks just like "rock cocaine." Police just learned of this new type of drug from Illinois State Police scientists at the Morton Crime Lab. Those scientists said the people who lived on Western had methoxyacetyl fentanyl in their bodies.
"You could overdose on a large quantity of cocaine and Narcan wouldn't help you, but now that this fentanyl is being mixed in, then they need to know to carry Narcan, or a better version is not to use cocaine," he said. "We have never seen this in cocaine and we would never expect to see this in cocaine."
Mushinsky and Marion illustrated how dangerous the new type of fentanyl is. About 8 p.m. Wednesday, they said, police were called to the 1800 block of West Kettelle Street for a drug overdose. The man there thought he had purchased crack cocaine, but it was the new type of fentanyl.
"It took six doses of Narcan to revive him, and he's still in extremely critical condition," Mushinsky said.
Police wanted to get the word out quickly and urged people to look into treatment options as well as to talk to their loved ones if they have a drug problem. Also, they are combing the streets for the person or people who are selling the drugs.
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said fentanyl has been an issue for a while now.
"The greatest portion of our heroin overdoses have acetyl fentanyl and fentanyl in them," he said. "But this is a whole different scoop (the new drug). You wouldn't normally find that in cocaine."
Andy Kravetz can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3283. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.