Building on more than three dozen recommendations included in a final report drafted by the Chicago-Cook County Task Force on Heroin — co-chaired by Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a series of measures to fight heroin and opioid addiction, including tougher regulations and increased annual spending on treatment programs.
During an Oct. 6 press conference at PCC Austin Family Health Center, 5425 W. Lake St., in Austin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city would boost annual spending on heroin addiction treatment by $700,000 (or 50 percent more than the current funding level). The additional funding would be “directed to areas of greatest need,” according to a statement released by the mayor’s office.
The mayor said that $250,000 would go toward increasing the availability of naloxone, a potentially life-saving medication designed to reverse overdoses, and that $350,000 in private funding would go toward a “citywide campaign to educate residents and healthcare providers,” according to the statement.
“We know that opioid and heroin addiction destroys lives and families,” Emanuel said, “which is why we are making investments to protect the health of our residents and to prevent this epidemic from claiming any more lives.”
The Chicago Recovery Alliance would receive the $250,000 naxolone investment in order make the drug more widely available in areas of the city, such as the West Side, where there’s been a disproportionate rate of heroin and opioid addiction. More naxolone would also be available to Chicago firefighters and emergency medical technicians, who are often the first authorities to respond to overdose-related calls.
For the past year, city officials have been in crisis mode trying to respond to a spike in overdoses stemming from fentanyl-laced heroin, the sales of which are concentrated on the West Side. The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that 33 people were arrested last month in connection to overdoses connected to heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid made in China that can be many times more potent than heroin itself.
A Sun-Times analysis of records kept by the Cook County medical examiner’s office showed that, as of mid-September, more than 270 people, many of them on the West Side, had died from fentanyl overdoses this year. That’s compared to 102 fentanyl-related deaths in 2015, the Sun-Times notes.
And in August, Roosevelt University released a report showing that heroin-related deaths, arrests and hospitalizations were much higher among minority residents on the West and South Sides than among the general population.
The West Side accounted for about 35 percent of heroin-related hospitalizations, with black residents comprising 83 percent of those West Side hospitalizations, a September AustinTalks analysis of the study noted. In addition, the study showed, West Side neighborhoods like Austin and West Garfield Park ranked in the top five community areas with the highest heroin-related arrests.
Since April, Chicago police have operated a program on the West Side that allows non-violent heroin dealers who get caught selling the drug to support addictions the opportunity to seek treatment in order to avoid criminal charges, the Sun-Times noted.
During the Oct. 6 press conference, Emanuel reinforced CPD’s pivot away from criminalizing consumption to becoming more vigilant about the production and sale of heroin and opioids.
In addition to increased investment in treatment methods, the mayor announced enhanced regulations for white collar professionals who sale opioids. The mayor proposed the establishment of an additional pharmaceutical representative license beyond the current licensing requirements the city has for those professionals.
The additional licensure, which city officials said is similar to one in Washington, D.C., would require representatives to receive additional training and education. They would also be required to give city officials information on the sale and marketing of opioids. The new license, city officials said, would “enable medical professionals to report complaints against representatives and monitor, audit and adjudicate complaints against pharmaceutical representatives.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan noted in a statement that she supports the additional licensure, which she said would help “curb the abusive overprescribing of opioid painkillers that feeds our country’s heroin epidemic.” Madigan also noted that her office has investigated cases of misconduct among pharmaceutical sales representatives and recently sued one opioid producer for “directing its sales reps to promote prescriptions for inappropriate uses that can be addictive and deadly.”
Last week, Boykin noted that he would work to make sure that the Task Force report’s recommendations are taken up by the county.
“In Cook County, there are many sensible measures that we can enact to reduce heroin addiction and overdoses,” Boykin said. “I look forward to sharing the report with my fellow Commissioners on the Cook County Board later this month and urging them to adopt its recommendations.”