Heroin abuse in the Chicago area has gotten worse over the last decade, creating a crisis that is perhaps more extreme than anywhere else in the U.S., says a report from Roosevelt University quoted in the Chicago Tribune. The study finds that the area has seen an increase in people admitted to emergency rooms for heroin-related problems. It now has more than any other metropolitan area.
Other trouble signs include soaring overdose deaths in nearby counties, a high percentage of inmates at the Cook County Jail testing positive for heroin and an increase in the number of people injecting the drug. “We’re talking about people who aren’t experimenting,” said Kathleen Kane-Willis, the researcher who co-authored the study. The study offered no estimate of the percentage of area residents using the drug, but a national survey shows that only 0.2 percent of Americans have used it in the last year, compared with 10 percent who have used marijuana and 2 percent who have used cocaine. Because heroin has vast effects on public health and crime – it produces fatal overdoses, helps spread HIV and contributes to much of Chicago’s gang violence – its use is a particular concern. “It used to be that most heroin users were African-American males from the Vietnam era,” said Dan Bigg of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, which runs a needle exchange program. “In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a shift to a much greater group, starting with the 18 to 24, suburban, Caucasian population.”