Tip of the Iceberg Fentanyl's Presence Growing in Chicago, Suburbs Faster Than Officials Expected

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Byline: Emily Ngo Daily Herald Staff Writer

His first love, first car and first full-time job marked the beginning of his adult years.

But it was David Konen's first encounter with fentanyl that caused their abrupt end.

The 18-year-old Streamwood resident was found unconscious in his bed - an unfinished line of heroin and a bloodied dollar bill on the table beside it.

"He didn't know the heroin was laced," said David's mother, Carin Konen. "He never would have done it."

David was pronounced dead later that Mother's Day at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.

His death was among the first related to the additive that doctors there had ever encountered, but Drug Enforcement Administration officials said it is unlikely to be the last. Fentanyl has increasingly been used to create lethal hybrid drugs in Chicago and the suburbs, they said.

"On most occasions, the buyers didn't know it was fentanyl," said Christopher Hoyt, a special agent with the Chicago DEA division. "We've conducted buys of our own. They sold us heroin, and it tested as fentanyl."

A painkiller that kills

Fentanyl, a painkiller that doctors say can be used in surgery without the patients losing consciousness, has seeped into the heroin supplies of specific cities, and federal officials are not sure why, they said.

Drug dealers might see fentanyl as a marketing tool; the high created by the mixture can be hundreds of times stronger than street drugs alone, federal officials said.

Heroin containing fentanyl looks the same as heroin alone, Hoyt said. Users may not realize it's a hybrid until their respiratory systems begin to shut down, sometimes resulting in death, he said.

In Cook County, fentanyl has been linked to 102 deaths since April 2005, Chief Medical Examiner Edmund Donoghue said last week. More than 90 percent of those deaths have occurred since December 2005, he said.

"Apparently, we haven't seen the peak yet," Donoghue said.

Although the deadly phenomenon is more prevalent in the city, its presence is beginning to be felt in the suburbs.

"We have overdoses from time to time, but nothing this significant," said Deputy Chief James Gremo of the Streamwood police. David Konen's death "could be the first fentanyl case in Streamwood."

David's last hours

Friends and family members said David had used alcohol and marijuana, but harder drugs - heroin, cocaine and ecstasy - were ones he had just begun trying.

"He wasn't a drug addict; he was like any other child," Carin Konen said. "This was the second time he tried heroin."

The night before his death, David met two acquaintances at about 10 p.m. for a drive to Chicago, where he bought two bags of heroin for $30.

It was one of the few instances he was apart from childhood friend Jeff Zilinger.

"Those kids took advantage of his money," Zilinger said. "He never plotted to use drugs, and he didn't go into the city every day to get them."

In memory of David, Zilinger has had the words "In loving memory D K" tattooed on his arm.

David's 14-year-old brother, Tyler, expresses his grief in a similar manner, donning a memorial armband on his baseball uniform.

Tyler Konen was the last person to see David conscious, checking in on him at about 4 a.m. -hours after David had returned from the city.

But by noon, David was dead.

Where it comes from

"People from the suburbs have been coming to Chicago's South and West Sides for years for their heroin," Hoyt said.

Fentanyl is even newer to the suburbs than it is to the city, he said.

The surge in its use since January has prompted federal officials to begin collecting samples of heroin for testing, Hoyt said.

"They're trying to identify the source and see if it's coming from one place or if it's all a coincidence - if it's pharmaceutical grade or it's manufactured clandestinely," Hoyt said. …