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Dozens nabbed in fentanyl probe tied to spike in Chicago deaths

Samples of street packaged fentanyl is displayed for photographic purposes at the end of a news conference in 2006. (File Photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

Chicago Police have arrested 33 people in connection with a huge spike in deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin this year, authorities said Friday.

Fentanyl manufactured in China is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. It’s mixed with heroin and marketed to users looking for a bigger high.

Gang members, particularly on the West Side, have been pushing the combination. So far this year, at least 273 people have died of fentanyl compared with 102 such deaths in 2015 in Cook County, according to the medical examiner’s office.

On Friday, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announced the arrests, which came in a roundup that began Thursday.

At Johnson’s side were U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon; Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz; Dennis Wichern, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago; and Nick Roti, head of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal program that coordinates anti-drug efforts.

Fardon said 23 percent of heroin overdoses statewide occur on Chicago’s West Side, where the most recent fentanyl investigation was focused.

“That has to stop,” he said.

But Fardon said arresting drug dealers is only part of the solution.

“We have to focus on education and prevention and treatment,” he said, adding, “It is time to de-stigmatize opioid addiction. It is an illness. And we cannot cure that illness until we shine our brightest light on it.”

Police said they’re continuing to search for a dozen suspects in their fentanyl investigation.

Anthony Riccio, chief of the police department’s Organized Crime Bureau, said anyone dealing fentanyl is considered a top priority by narcotics officers.

“If you’re dealing fentanyl, we’re going to put you at the top of the list because that’s the thing that’s killing people,” he said.

Three defendants were charged in federal court, including Reginald Davison, 21; Lindsay Bloodson, 28; and James Horn, 29. Davison and Bloodson are accused of selling fentanyl-laced heroin to undercover cops in the Homan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods. Horn allegedly sold fentanyl, heroin and cocaine to an undercover cop in West Garfield Park.

Contributing: Andy Grimm