Chicago, and to a similar extent the state of Illinois, are in the midst of a heroin epidemic, and legislators are trying to figure out new ways to cut down on the crisis.
Heroin has been a major problem in Chicago, especially over the last five years. Back in 2012, the Chicago metropolitan area saw admissions for heroin overdoses outpace the national average by more than double. Worse yet, just last year Chicago had the most hospital admissions for heroin use of any city in the nation.
“We’ve seen the numbers of deaths go up,” said Melaney Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Heroin Epidemic in Illinois
According to state statistics, there have been 2,113 deaths linked to heroin overdoses in Illinois between 2013 and 2015. More than half of those deaths (1,425) occurred in Chicago and its surrounding counties, but Arnold suggested those death statistics are likely underreported.
“Heroin overdose deaths were underreported previously and they could be under-reported right now.” She went on to mention that past causes of death were oftentimes given simpler classifications, like “opiate intoxication” or “overdose,” meaning the root cause of death is never officially classified as heroin.
After hearing about the dramatic rise in heroin overdoses throughout the state, state representative Lou Lang decided to take action. He helped form a bipartisan task force to travel throughout the state and research why the drug was becoming so popular and to learn ways to help prevent overdoses.
“We were ground zero in America. Not just in rough shape but ground zero.” Lang said. “Other states were doing a little of this and a little of that, but I wanted something complete and comprehensive.”
After compiling their research, Lang and others worked to create House Bill 1, also known as the Heroin Crisis Act. The 250-page law outlines numerous changes into how the state polices the problem, including:
- Requiring Medicaid to pay for medication-based substance abuse treatment.
- Authorizing pharmacies to dispense heroin reversal drugs like Narcan.
- Authorizing school nurses to dispense heroin reversal drugs.
- Imposing stricter reporting requirements on overdose information from healthcare providers.
Overall, the goal of the law is to shift some of the focus away from the punishment of the crime and towards health treatment options so users can kick the habit and stay clean once and for all.
“This law goes way beyond what any other state has done,” said Lang. “It is the most comprehensive and wide-reaching piece of legislation aimed at battling heroin addiction.”
Hopefully the new law will help cut into this deadly epidemic.