Study of suburban opioid deaths points to heroin as the chief killer

The West and Southwest suburbs of Worth, Broadview, Maywood and Forest Park saw the most overdose deaths.

SHARE Study of suburban opioid deaths points to heroin as the chief killer
Packets of heroin at the Elgin Police Department on Thursday, May 30, 2013.

Packets of heroin at the Elgin Police Department on Thursday, May 30, 2013.

Sun-Times Files

A report on opioid-related overdose deaths in suburban Cook County released Friday found that heroin is the chief killer, and the highest death rates were in several west and southwest communities.

Of the approximately 1,600 overdose deaths recorded from 2016 through June 15, 2020, 83% tested positive for heroin or fentanyl, according to the report.

Heroin, which is often laced with potent fentanyl, claimed the most lives despite the fact that only a small number of opioid abusers use heroin — about 8%.

The report, titled “Opioid Epidemic in Suburban Cook County,” was a joint effort by the Cook County Department of Public Health and researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

UIC Professor Lee Friedman said the overwhelming ratio of heroin- and fentanyl- related deaths was “probably the most alarming but not necessarily the most surprising finding.”

Highlights of the report were shared Friday during a virtual news conference.

The hardest hit suburbs were located in the following zip codes: 60482, 60155, 60153, 60130, 60428, 60456 and include Worth, Broadview, Maywood and Forest Park — places with low incomes and high poverty rates.

“Health outcomes often broadly track with these social conditions that we know have impacts beyond one’s pocket book,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, a senior medical officer for the county’s health department.

White people made up 66.4% of the deaths, Black people made of 21.9%, and Hispanics were 10.6%, according to the report.

“The opioid related mortality rate has nearly doubled over three years among Black/African-Americans nationally. In suburban Cook County, the largest increase has been observed among middle-aged Black/African-American males,” the report notes.

The increase mirrors national trends over the last three years, according to the report.

There were more than 50,000 opioid-related hospital cases in suburban Cook County during the window of time covered in the report that resulted in hospital bills totaling more than $800 million, according to the report.

Though opioid overdose deaths appeared to drop during the small portion of the study that overlapped with the beginning months of the pandemic, it was too soon to draw any conclusions due to a six- to nine-month lag on the data collection, authors of the report said.

The number of opioid related deaths has increased nationally by almost seven-fold since 2000, largely due to the introduction of fentanyl.

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