The Opioid Epidemic in 
DuPage County, Illinois

Deaths from opioids—which include prescription painkillers and heroin—have skyrocketed since the late 1990's. 

Since 1999, deaths from opioid overdoses have skyrocketed, becoming the worst drug epidemic in modern American history. Over 42,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016—more than deaths from automobile accidents or firearm-related homicides. Over a third of those overdose deaths were from heroin, which is surging in popularity.

Context of the Crisis

Drug supplies are not constrained by state borders, and death rates exhibit strong regional clustering, particularly in the Rust Belt and Northeast. These charts show the opioid and heroin death rate trends for the states bordering Illinois.

What are opioids?

Opioids form a class of drug that includes powerful pain medications, such as oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. Some opioids are derived from opium poppies, while others are synthetic.

Increasingly, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are illegally manufactured and distributed alongside or mixed with heroin. Many opioid-related deaths involve more than one type of drug.

Doctors prescribe opioids because the drugs are highly effective as painkillers. But they are also highly addictive.

How did the crisis begin?

Many experts trace the roots of the opioid crisis to the overprescription of opioid pain relievers, beginning in the late 1990’s. Health experts now recognize that prescription opioids are dangerously addictive. Many doctors have taken steps to limit opioid prescriptions, and prescription rates have decreased every year since 2010.

But legal prescription opioids are just one side of the epidemic. Even as the prescription opioid supply is constrained, the illegal supply has rapidly expanded to meet the demand. Heroin and black-market fentanyl are often cheaper and more accessible than legal prescription opioids. Studies have shown that prescription opioid use is a strong predictor of later heroin use: three out of four new heroin users have reported previously abusing prescription opioids.

Mapping the Crisis in Illinois

DuPage County, Illinois: Overall Health Picture

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