Cook County, Ill is seeing a spike in opioid overdose deaths this year, on pace to double last year’s figures, with the half-year-long public health crisis spiking.
Gun violence has also seen an uptick in Chicago.
Added to the mix are unsafe drugs on the market, creating the perfect storm.
According to EMS1, street drugs are increasingly being cut with more dangerous substances, raising the risk of fatal overdose at a time when the pandemic has resulted in closures of some clinics and a reduction in available social services.
The toll is particularly heavy on the city’s West Side, where since late March, nearly 80 people have died in just a few ZIP codes.
Kathie Kane-Willis, a drug policy researcher at the Chicago Urban League, said emergency response data showed that overdoses started to rise sharply in November, long before the pandemic began.
The cause, she said, is an illicit opioid flow that has become ever more dangerous as heroin, derived from the opium poppy, is supplanted by far more powerful synthetic chemicals like fentanyl and its many cousins, which are cheaper to make and easier to smuggle.
Overdose victims have been as young as 18 and as old as 78, found unresponsive in a single-room-occupancy hotel, slumped in the passenger’s seat of an abandoned truck, sprawled on a sidewalk and collapsed in their own homes, among many other places.
Nearly 50% of the people who died were Black, though they only make up about 24% of the county’s population, according to 2019 census estimates. Whites made up about 36% of the deaths, Latino, about 13% and Asian, less than 1%.
Health care workers see increased access to naloxone as a main tool in the fight against opioid overdoses. The Chicago Recovery Alliance is piloting a program that will put naloxone vending machines in three spots in the city, with the first machine slated to be operational by August.
The Cook County’s Sheriff’s Office said officers’ use of naloxone has gone up nearly 300% since last year, resuscitating many people who otherwise might have died.