Police in Champaign and Urbana have gone on high alert — and are asking the public to do the same — following a recent surge in drug-related overdoses in the two communities.
Champaign Police Investigations Commander Lt. Robert Rea told The News-Gazette there have been four drug overdose cases in the city within the last week, an “unusual” number in such a small time frame. In two of the cases, the people using the drugs died.
“Although no official autopsy results have been made available, we suspect the deceased parties may have used an illegal drug that was tampered with,” Rea said. “We are notifying the public that there are dangerous drugs out there that are killing people.”
Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said officers in that city have also seen what he called “a significant increase in the number of heroin-related cases.”
One such case may have taken place in the 1300 block of Ellis Drive at 11:45 p.m. June 5, when a 53-year-old Urbana woman collapsed in front of a relative and later died after complaining of having difficulty breathing.
It was later discovered by Urbana police that illegal drug use may have been a contributing factor in her death.
According to another Urbana police report, officers checked on a 32-year-old Champaign woman who had fallen asleep inside her vehicle in the 1700 block of Philo Road the night of June 6. After officers found marks on her arm, a police dog sweep of the vehicle revealed hypodermic syringes and a burnt spoon.
The spoon was later field-tested and showed a positive color change for the presence of heroin.
“All heroin is bad heroin,” Urbana police Lt. Bryant Seraphin said Wednesday night.
“Trying to determine after the fact what may or may not have been safe heroin is sort of a crapshoot.”
Both cities’ police departments conveyed their message in a joint news release issued late Wednesday afternoon. The four-paragraph statement also noted Urbana officers reporting “more violent encounters when addressing the heroin problems within the city.”
“It’s no secret that heroin is the most popular drug right now,” Rea said. “... It is a possibility that the same person or persons may be involved with the tampering, but we don’t have enough information at this time.”
The incidents aren’t unique to Champaign-Urbana. While Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber said Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of any recent activity involving tampered drugs in his community, police have reported a rise in the number of encounters with illegal drug users from Piatt, Douglas and Coles counties.
Douglas County Chief Deputy Peter Buckley said deputies recently responded to a fatal heroin overdose case in the township of Garrett.
“A man was with his girlfriend, and he wouldn’t wake up,” Buckley said. “It turned out to be a heroin overdose. We later learned the man had gone to purchase heroin that evening in Champaign.”
Anyone believing they have drugs that have been tampered with but worrying about being arrested if they go to the police is urged to contact Champaign County
Crimestoppers at 217-373-8477 with any information about illegal drug activity.
Information may also be left anonymously online at 373tips.com or by sending a cellphone text message with CCTIP plus the information to CRIMES (274637).
“We’ll work the details out to get the information anonymously,” Rea said.