Twice as many people died from opioids than gun violence in 2022, Cook County reports

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Friday, December 30, 2022
Cook County reports twice as many people die from opioids than gun violence in 2022
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Health professionals and groups are taking some different approaches in their fight against the drug crisis.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In Cook County, opioids are reported to have killed twice as many people as gun violence this year.

As we head into the new year, health professionals and groups are taking some different approaches in their fight against the drug crisis.

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They're hopeful that their strategies will help.

Gail Richardson and Roger Stiff are outreach workers with the West Side Opioid Task Force, who work the streets almost every day.

The corner they pick is usually across the street from a West Side drug hot spot near Monroe and Pulaski.

"We are out here trying to save lives because the epidemic is killing people," Richardson said.

Opioids are killing almost twice as many people in Cook County than shootings. So far this year, 1,581 people have died from opioids compared to 811 that were killed in gun related incidents. Drugs laced with fentanyl are driving the increase in opioid deaths.

"We now assume someone who is consuming heroin is exposed to fentanyl, whether they intend to be or not," said Dr. Juleigh Nowinski Konchak, with Cook County Health.

While it's been a busy year at Cook County Health treating opioid disorders, Dr. Konchak is hopeful next year numbers will go down. She said policy changes, such as safe consumption sites, and approaches, such as evidence based treatment, will make a difference.

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"I've seen people who use drugs having a seat at the table, informing policies and decisions -- that is really important," Dr. Konchak said.

People like Richardson and Stiff, who are both former addicts.

"Sometimes we have to tell our story because the majority of us that do outreach have all worn the shoes," Richardson said.

The West Side Task Force and substance abuse doctors say because the path to recovery is windy, the key is meeting people where they are at.

RELATED: Fentanyl testing strips part of aggressive effort to end opioid overdoses

"It involves steps in the right direction, encouraging individuals not to use alone, test before consuming," Dr. Konchak said.

Richardson and Stiff give out fentanyl test kits and overdose reversal drugs.

"We also give them different options, methadone, Suboxone. And if you want detox now, we can get you there," Richardson said.

Because deaths caused by opioids are more than are shootings and car accidents combined, outreach workers and doctors said it's time to lift the stigma attached to drug use and give more attention to it.

RELATED: Narcan vending machine now open to help prevent opioid overdose deaths