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Big hurdles in bid to curb a potent heroin

Use of fentanyl-laced heroin is rising, as law officers work to ID the origin of the painkiller.

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Jimbo tries to be cautious these days. The middle-age heroin user says he buys only from dealers he knows – a hedge against getting heroin mixed with the pain-reliever fentanyl, a concoction that has killed at least 150 people in recent months.

Many of his friends, though, seek out fentanyl-laced heroin for its potent high, swapping information about where the latest overdose victim got his dope.

"They always say, 'It's gonna be different with me, 'cause I'm not going to use so much,' but it's still too much," says Jimbo, as he exchanged used needles for clean ones at a mobile van run by the Chicago Recovery Alliance. "It's a whole new ballgame."

Demand for the potent heroin-fentanyl mixture is just one factor complicating officials' efforts to contain, if not eliminate, a street drug that is raising alarms in cities in the upper Midwest and the Northeast. So far this year, the drug combo has been responsible for between 150 and 300 deaths in a handful of cities.

Last week, Chicago police and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrested 29 members of a southside street gang suspected of trafficking in the specialty heroin. Over the weekend, police in Detroit arrested a local man suspected of being a major provider of the drug in that city, which has counted the largest number of fentanyl-related deaths.

Also impeding efforts to crack down on the drug is the fact that it remains something of a mystery. Officials acknowledge they have much to learn, including where the fentanyl is made. They also are concerned because, as a synthetic drug made in sophisticated labs, fentanyl may point to a new territorial opening in the war on illegal drugs.

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