CHICAGO (WLS) — The city's highest-ranking federal drug officer made history as the first woman to bear the title. He vows to make a difference as fentanyl deaths get out of control and drug cartels continue brisk business in the Chicago area.
Sheila Lyons was in the process of hanging mementoes and mementos from her 31 year career with the Drug Enforcement Agency when she moved into a large corner office. Lyons was just named the first female Special Agent in charge of the Chicago field office.
“What that means to me is women can literally do whatever they want,” says Lyons. “This is not how I planned my career trajectory.”
A native of Chicago and a graduate of Bradley University, Lyons planned to become a lawyer, but law school was too expensive. His college career day led him to apply to a government agency called the DEA and Lyons found his calling.
“Here I am nearly 31 years later, honored to lead the division I started years ago as an intelligence analyst,” said Lyons.
Lyons has grown rapidly, spending time as an agent in various cities and countries before returning to his hometown. Often, she is the only woman in the office. Lyons took over during what he said was the DEA's most challenging time yet: the fentanyl crisis.
“This is the worst drug crisis I have ever seen in my career,” he said.
Opioids are the leading cause of death in 18 to 45 year olds. Lyons said the agency's number one goal is to defeat and destroy the cartels that bring drugs into the United States.
“They are the two cartels that caused poisoning death from fentanyl overdose in the US today and both cartels are alive and well and present and active in the city of Chicago,” Lyons said.
Lyons' second goal is education. Because the cartel ties fentanyl to other drugs and presses it into counterfeit pills, the DEA has launched a “One Pill Can Kill” campaign.
Lyons said people were dying at catastrophic rates from just taking one pill. Lyons admits the crisis is a big challenge, but he is ready.
“I feel like this is a great challenge, but I'm the kind of person who refuses to give up when there's still hope,” said Lyons.
The DEA's mandatory retirement age is 57 years. At age 53, Lyons says he plans to keep working as long as he is effective.