Cook County saw a more than 40% increase in opioid-related overdoses last year according to the Cook County Department of Public Health. While this spike started in December 2019, the pandemic in part accelerated this trend
The Cook County Department of Health has recorded a total of 512 opioid-involved overdoses so far this year. Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer and co-lead at the Cook County Department of Public Health, said his team is hearing that of the overdoses so far, fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, has been the cause of many.
Cheryl Hull, the deputy director of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, said she’s hearing less stories of people overdosing.
“I do ask at the end of asking the name and birthday and all of that, has anyone overdosed since the last time you were here?” Hull said. “And I’ve noticed more people are saying no.”
Last year’s increase also affected residents in Cook County differently depending on race and ethnicity. Total overdose deaths for non-Hispanic white/Caucasian individuals decreased from 2019-2020, while total overdose deaths for non-Hispanic African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals increased.
Joshi said the department isn’t completely clear what’s causing the disparity. However, one factor to look at is access to clinical services and assessments for substance use disorder.
Hull said the realities of providing services clients became “horrific” as the numbers increased.
The Chicago Recovery Alliance travels throughout the city to distribute resources resources – educational materials or Narcan, used to rapidly reverse an overdose – to people who need them.
“People come to the van and tell us ‘you know that lady that used to come to the van, this short lady, such and such?,” Hull said. “‘Oh, she overdosed last night, she’s dead.’”
Hull said she’s seeing more people come to the van for services lately, especially since the organization recently got the nasal spray version of Narcan. It’s also administered in the form of a shot, but many are reluctant to use needles. But Hull say it’s a valuable intervention in any form.
“If we weren’t there, more people would die from HIV, hepatitis C, and overdosing and we’ve saved a lot of people from being dead,” Hull said. “If people die, they cannot recover.”