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BLOOMINGTON — A Bloomington man is accused of removing opioid patches from the bodies of residents at two local nursing homes, including one where he worked as a registered nurse.

James Rellihan is charged with multiple counts of burglary and theft under $500. 

In a statement read in court Thursday, Assistant State’s Attorney Jeff Horve detailed two visits Rellihan allegedly made, one on Feb. 24 to Bloomington Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, and another on Feb. 26 to Heritage Health in Normal.

At the Bloomington facility, Rellihan removed three fentanyl patches from a terminally ill man, telling the patient, “It will be OK,” said the prosecutor.

The 31-year-old nurse was recognized by co-workers who questioned why he was at the facility on his day off, said Horve.

On Feb. 26, Rellihan showed up at the Normal nursing home where he had previously worked. He went to a patient’s room where he removed a fentanyl patch from a man with dementia, according to the charges.

When questioned by police, Rellihan “denied taking, using or selling” the patches, Horve told Associate Judge Amy McFarland.

Horve asked for a $50,000 bond, “given the egregious nature of the offenses.”

The judge agreed and set that bond, which requires Rellihan to post $5,035 to be released. He remains in McLean County jail following his arrest on Tuesday. 

A March 9 arraignment is set.

The investigation was conducted by the Bloomington Police Department's patrol division and vice unit.

A cellphone also was seized.

The mixture of power synthetic opioids like fentanyl with heroin has added to the number of drug-related deaths across the U.S. in recent years. McLean County has not escaped the rising tides of opioid deaths.

McLean County Coroner Kathy Davis attributed 40 deaths in 2017 to drug overdoses, including 34 linked to opioids. The county saw its first death related to carfentanil, a dangerous synthetic drug considered 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

Looking beyond the number of deaths, Davis has studied the backgrounds of those who died as a result of an overdose in McLean County. 

The average age of a drug victim was 38. Thirty-four were white and six were black. Seven were married at the time they died but 27 never married. Five were divorced and one was widowed. Most had at least a high school diploma or some college education.

In some of the cases the victims were unaware that the heroin they were using was laced with fentanyl or other substances, said Davis.

"They didn't realize a stronger drug was in the mix and that may have pushed them over the edge," said Davis.

The solution to the drug epidemic starts with a team approach involving doctors, coroners and law enforcement to educate the public that drug treatment offers the best option, said the coroner.

"It's like you're fighting a demon. The first time out with these drugs can kill you. We've got to keep educating people that there's help out there," said Davis.

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