Michael Raines was hailed as a hero after the Cook County correctional officer shot and chased down a man who allegedly had fired several gunshots outside a bar in November 2014.

Cook County correctional officer Michael Raines died of an overdose less than a year after he risked his life to save others. | Facebook

Less than a year later, Raines, 33, died of an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin, Sam Charles of the Sun-Times recently reported. His death is a vivid example of the toll an opioid epidemic is taking on rural, urban and suburban areas across Illinois and the U.S.

Raines was one of 1,382 Illinois residents — and one of 546 in Cook County — to die of an opioid-related overdose in 2015. In 2016, opioid-related overdose deaths in Illinois climbed nearly 37 percent to 1,888, according to provisional statistics from the state Department of Public Health. Between 2013 and 2016, deaths tied to opioids shot up 76 percent in Illinois.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has flagged Illinois as one of 19 states that had “statistically significant increases” in drug overdose death rates from 2014 to 2015.

EDITORIAL

Raines’ parents told detectives that post-traumatic stress from the 2014 incident drove their son to alcohol and heroin. A source told Charles that Raines began taking prescription painkillers to treat a back injury that became aggravated during his takedown of the suspect. From there, he moved on to heroin.

It is a sad and familiar story. While effective to treat pain, opioid-based prescription drugs can be highly addictive. Some users turn to heroin when they no longer can get painkillers from their doctors. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid usually prescribed to cancer patients, has entered the illicit drug market for its potency. Since 2014, fentanyl has killed 571 Chicagoans.

In recent years, health experts have taken steps to curb the epidemic. The CDC issued guidelines for doctors who treat patients with chronic pain with opioids. We urge doctors to heed them. Some states, including Illinois, have passed laws to better track prescriptions for painkillers.

Medicaid has been crucial for Americans battling opioid addiction. Cuts to Medicaid in Obamacare repeal bills would be devastating. Republicans want to add a lump-sum amount of $45 billion for opioid treatment, but experts say it’s not enough and won’t offset more comprehensive treatment that is currently provided under Medicaid.

Now is not the time to scale back the fight, not while America is losing hero cops to opioid addiction.

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