Opioid and heroin use is surging in Illinois communities and across the country with dramatic increases in the number of users and deaths by overdose. Communities, criminal justice practitioners, and public health professionals are struggling to help those suffering from opioid use disorders and, ultimately, save lives. This article provides an overview of the opioid epidemic and its causes, including the link between prescription opioids and heroin.
Today, more Americans die from drug overdoses than car accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that opioids—a class of drugs that include prescription pain medications and heroin—were involved in 28,648 U.S. deaths in 2014. In addition, there has been a continued dramatic increase in heroin-related deaths, as well as a growing increase in synthetic opioid deaths, such as fentanyl. In Illinois, heroin-related overdose deaths increased 22 percent from 2013 to 2014.