As Cook County overdose deaths reach record-high, group pushes for safe-use spaces

Mark Rivera Image
Friday, August 26, 2022
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As overdose deaths reached an all-time high in Cook County, a local alliance is working to increase safe-use spaces to prevent overdose deaths.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Opioid deaths in Cook County reached an all-time high last year. It's a crisis that's only been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.

Now, West Side State Rep. La Shawn Ford is hoping to add permanent overdose prevention sites in Chicago.

People on the front lines of the opioid crisis said the sites could make a lifesaving difference.

"We're in the neighborhood to provide the services," said Pier Moore of Chicago Recovery Alliance. "If somebody does overdose, there's somebody there with Narcan."

Moore has been a staple in high-risk communities like North Lawndale for the past three years. Handing out clean syringes, Narcan and other supplies all for free to encourage safer heroin and opioid use.

"Some of the people that come up to the van, they actually tried (to quit)," Moore said. "They just can't stop."

Moore said in the past few years, the number of clients coming to her Chicago Recovery Alliance truck has exploded and said permanent safe spaces to use drugs would make a big difference.

"We find out a lot of people are overdosing in the street," Moore said.

Over the past two decades, and specifically the past eight years, opioid deaths in Cook County have skyrocketed. Last year reached a record 1,931 opioid-related deaths.

"People are going to use," said Sam Rivera, OnPoint NYC Executive Director. "If people are going to use, we want them to come in and use safely and stay alive."

OnPoint NYC operates two permanent overdose prevention sites in New York City and were invited by the West Side Opioid Task Force to discuss permanent overdose prevention sites here in Chicago.

"Dead users can't go to detox and treatment," Rivera said. "We need them alive and that's what bothers people mostly, I find. We're loving on people until they're ready to love on themselves."

A temporary overdose prevention site operates under tents in a vacant lot at Pulaski and Van Buren in the West Garfield Park Neighborhood twice a week.

Rep. La Shawn Ford hopes the legislature will approve permanent sites in the veto session.

"You would rather have somebody use safely rather than being in the street, your child walking up, finding dirty used materials on the ground," Ford said.

The groups spoken to underscore they do not condone or encourage drug use. Instead, they say it's about keeping people using drugs alive, so they can get the help they need to recover.