CHICAGO — It’s a new war on drugs inside Cook County Jail.

People trying to smuggle narcotics into the facility is nothing new. But the Cook County Sheriff’s office is now finding the drugs and the methods being used are unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

“Before the pandemic, it was somewhat very traditional what the types of contraband that people were trying to get in and the method they were trying to do it,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.

Now, officers are finding letters, greeting cards and other mail being sprayed with pesticides or even fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

Inside the jail, detainees will tear the letter or card into pieces and smoke it to get high.

Since 2019, there have been eight confirmed fatal overdoses at the jail, which houses more than 6,000 people, according to the sheriff’s office.

“We have people going out where they inhaled something,” Dart said. “It was literally rat poison.”

The cards are not just a way for people to get high but also to make money.

Last month, authorities charged a 34-year-old Joanna McCree, a nurse at Cook County’s Stroger Hospital, with drug possession. She is accused of attempting to smuggle up to 50 pieces of paper, reportedly laced with an illegal substance, to a boyfriend inside the jail.

In court filings, officials allege each page could have sold for $1,000.

In these types of cases, officials say money trades hands via mobile payment apps, with people on the outside helping facilitate the process.

“You break down the [greeting] card into pieces and sell it and smoke it,” Michael Lucente, director of the sheriff’s Strategic Intelligence Unit, said. “It’s a money maker. After so long of selling page-by-page, you’re bonding out.”

It’s believed most if not all of the drugs come through the mail, which is why the sheriff’s office strengthened its screening process.

Each package and letter is now sniffed by a K-9, then X-rayed, sorted and searched.

Officials say on average the jail receives more than 20,000 pieces of mail per month. In a 12-month period, about 11,000 are seized for various reasons, including suspicion of drugs.

The sheriff’s office recently rolled out a program to place tablets in the hands of more detainees. The commercial grade screens can now be used for e-learning and phone calls, and down the road may be expanded to include texting and video calls.

The hope is that by providing more communication channels, people will be less likely to send cards and letters to the jail, lessening the amount of mail that needs screening.

“We will never get rid of mail all together,” Dart said. “But part of our goal, our thinking is, utilizing the tablet, it’s going to decrease the volume of mail, to the point where it will be a lot easier for us to go through what we get.”