Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to boost spending to combat opioid and heroin abuse — and license pharmaceutical representatives to prevent the over-prescription of opioids.
A $700,000 investment in drug-treatment programs — a 50 percent increase over current funding — will be directed first to “opioid treatment deserts,” which have a disproportionate level of addiction and are largely concentrated on the West Side.
That’s where gang members have been pushing the deadly combination of fentanyl and heroin that’s been blamed for a spike in deaths this year.
The mayor plans to spend $250,000 to increase the availability of naloxone, an overdose-reversal medication viewed as a potential lifesaver, and another $350,000 on a privately funded citywide campaign to educate residents and health care providers.
Those investments are only part of the plan, sparked by the final report from the Chicago-Cook County Task Force on heroin that was jointly convened by Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and county Commissioner Richard Boykin.
Addiction to prescription opioids is often a gateway to heroin addiction. To prevent that abuse, Emanuel wants to follow the lead of Washington, D.C., and create a first-ever “pharmaceutical representative license” in Chicago.
It would be issued only after pharmaceutical representatives receive “additional training and education” and provide the city with “information on opioid sales and marketing.”
The license would also serve as a vehicle to help medical professionals report complaints and “monitor, audit and adjudicate” those complaints.
“We know that opioid and heroin addiction destroys lives and families, which is why we are making investments to protect the health of our residents and to prevent this epidemic from claiming any more lives,” the mayor said in a statement.
The mayor also disclosed his plans to join DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin in convening a “regional opioid summit” on Oct. 27.
The mayor’s anti-heroin plan follows months of efforts by the Chicago Police department to combat the sale of fentanyl-laced heroin and rising deaths from overdoses.
Earlier this year, the department launched an innovative program to address heroin addiction on the West Side.
Police are continuing to crack down on gang members running street-level heroin operations. But since April, non-violent dealers who sell heroin to support their own habits have been offered the chance of seeking treatment in exchange for not being charged with a crime.
About 30 of them have accepted the offer and entered some form of treatment, ranging from full-blown detox to outpatient care, said Nicholas Roti, a former high-ranking Chicago Police official who now runs a federal anti-drug program.
The federal program, called the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, is also working with the Robert Crown Center to launch a high-tech heroin education program targeted at middle school and high school students, Roti said.
And HIDTA is working with the Chicago Police and Illinois State Police to identify the areas on the West Side where fentanyl-laced heroin sales are concentrated, Roti said. Last month, Chicago Police arrested 33 people in connection with a surge in deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin this year.
Fentanyl manufactured in China is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. It’s mixed with heroin and marketed to users looking for a bigger high.
Gang members, particularly on the West Side, have been pushing the combination. This year, more than 270 people died of fentanyl through mid-September in Cook County compared with 102 such deaths in 2015, according to the medical examiner’s office.