Cook and DuPage counties seeing reduction in overdose deaths, ABC7 I-Team analysis finds

ABC7 I-Team analysis offers less ominous takeaway following declaration of 'deadliest drug crisis ever.'

ByBarb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Tom Jones and Maggie Green and Chuck Goudie WLS logo
Saturday, May 11, 2024
Some Chicago-area counties seeing reduction in drug overdose deaths
Health officials suggest the promising numbers are the product of anti-drug public relations campaigns and the use of overdose-reversing drugs.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Following years of escalating opioid deaths and many thousands of fatal overdoses in Chicago and the suburbs, there may be a glimmer of hope in Cook and DuPage counties.

In the latest data analyzed by the ABC7 I-Team, the counties are seeing reductions in overdose deaths.

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There's also reason for hope in other suburban counties, where deadly overdose poisonings are leveling off.

Health officials suggest the promising numbers are the product of significant anti-drug public relations campaigns and the use of overdose-reversing drugs.

"I'm happy to say that we've had a 24% decrease in the number of deaths due to overdoses in 2022," said DuPage County Coroner Dr. Richard Jorgensen.

He's optimistically cautious with the news about this chronically bad problem.

Opioid painkillers, in most cases laced with illicit fentanyl, have taken thousands of lives over the last several years across metro Chicago.

"We had 150, and last year, we had 114. And though I don't consider this a victory lap, I do you think that it's a significant downturn and something for us to be happy about." said Jorgensen.

SEE ALSO | As fentanyl-laced drugs kill thousands of Americans, should dealers be charged with murder?

DuPage County isn't alone.

In Cook County last year, there were still 1,811 overdose deaths -- a 9.5 % decrease. According to the medical examiner, it's the lowest count since 2020.

Will and Lake counties report about the same numbers in each of the past two years while McHenry County has a slight uptick: 30 opioid overdose deaths in 2023, an increase from 28 the previous year.

While the glimmer of hope exists in some areas, nationally it is a different story.

"Maybe they're slightly going down, but not enough to declare any kind of success. A lot of it has to do with the availability of Narcan," explained Nick Roti, executive director of Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

When Jorgensen took the DuPage County Coroner's Office in 2012, there were 38 annual overdose deaths. Even with a decline in 2023, he thinks 114 deaths remain a problem.

READ MORE | DEA report assesses illicit drug trade in Chicago, across US as 'deadliest drug crisis ever'

"If there were 114 gunshot deaths in DuPage County, we would be screaming about this," Jorgensen said. "If we're still losing 100-plus people in DuPage County every year due to this problem. I think we still have a serious problem,"

And there is one statistic that has him especially hopeful.

Jorgensen says the age range of overdose victims used to be from older teenagers to people in their early twenties.

Now, he says, most drug deaths are people in their thirties and forties.

Authorities say they hope that shows fewer young people are even starting to use hard drugs and that the message is being received earlier that street drugs usually contain fentanyl and are likely to kill.