In Chicago, as many opioid ODs as shootings
Chicago is in the midst of a well publicized epidemic of gun violence. As of September 24, 2,800 people have been shot in the city, slightly less than last year's carnage. The city just "celebrated" its 500th homicide for the year.
Less publicized but just as tragic is the record number of opioid overdoses in the city. The numbers are startling: 18 Chicagoans a day overdose on heroin, morphine, and other drugs, both legal and illegal.
The city's response? They are placing needle receptacles in public washrooms. Beyond that, there's a lot of talk about treating opioid addiction, but resources are lacking.
In a city infamous for gun violence, opioid overdoses in Chicago outpaced the number of shootings in 2016. The I-Team uncovered 6590 overdoses citywide – that's nearly 18 per day. It's a deadly mix of heroin and high powered synthetics being abused in plain sight.
Chicago Fire Department data obtained by the I-Team shows the city's overdose problem touches every neighborhood. The worst intersection is on the West Side: 38 overdoses right at Congress and Pulaski – 90 in the one block radius around that intersection.
Recovering heroin addicts and advocates say the problem is getting worse.
These powerfully addictive drugs are showing up in all corners of the city. The data show there were 35 overdoses at the city's airports combined, one outside both the Cubs and White Sox ballparks, five at Navy Pier and six along the Magnificent Mile.
In 2016, there was at least one overdose on every block of State Street from Congress Parkway all the way to the river – that's 78 people overdosing last year in less than a mile, right in the heart of the Loop.
Addicts and advocates tell the I-Team that opioid shooting galleries are hidden throughout the city. Some addicts say the easiest place to hide a drug habit is in a car – locking their doors and shooting up around the corner from wherever they buy drugs. Others turn to dangerous hidden sites steps away from busy intersections.
Some addicts believe the drug epidemic is behind the addition of needle disposal boxes on the walls of public restrooms. So-called "sharps containers" are available at upscale grocery stores and even suburban malls. Chicago Recovery Alliance's Dan Bigg says his group seeks to fulfill their mission of "Any Positive Change" by connecting opioid addicts with clean injection supplies and passing out thousands of lifesaving doses of naloxone also known as Narcan. They say their kits reversed more than 1500 overdoses in the past year.
The opioid epidemic is nationwide and reaches into every urban and rural county in the country. Most governments are overwhelmed with addicts and overdose cases, stretching local resources past the breaking point. Donald Trump has talked about help from the federal government, but to be clear, there is very little the government can do except throw money at the problem. More funds for addiction centers, hospitals, education – all of these are important and should be funded adequately.
But ultimately, opioid addiction is a disease of the soul. People of all colors, all economic levels, all regions of the country are affected. This makes the problem unique and difficult to address. Interdiction is useless when so many get their opioids legally. The FDA has been trying to crack down on doctors that over-prescribe, but how do you tell the difference between an addict and someone who, because of chronic, unbearable pain, can't live without the drugs?
I have known two people with that kind of pain. They would probably have killed themselves by now without their opiods. But their condition only highlights the problem with a drug that helps so many and hurts so many more.