Cook County is currently on pace to set a new record for opioid overdose deaths this year.
At the same time, the county is considering where to spend some of the more than $10.5 million it’s already received in a historic multi-state legal settlement with pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors over their role in the opioid crisis.
Over the next 18 years, Chicago is expected to get $78 million from Illinois’ $760 million share of the opioid settlement.
Even with that influx of money, Dan Lustig, president and CEO of Haymarket Center drug treatment facility, says there still aren’t enough funds to treat it addiction as a health condition.
“What you need is treatment on demand. When they walk in, they need to get services immediately,” says Lustig. “We know that the longer a person’s involved in substance abuse disorders, the more likely they’ll be involved in the criminal justice system.”
That’s exactly what James Stewart, 58, of Chicago, says happened to him.
At the time, he says he didn’t have enough sense to ask for help, even after the mother of his four children died from a fentanyl overdose.
Stewart says his arrest on drug charges was the best thing that could have happened. After detoxing in jail, he was offered the opportunity to get treatment at Haymarket Center. He’s now a case manager in Haymarket’s addiction program helping others with their recovery.
“It strengthens my resolve to get away from drugs and be an example,” he said. “If I go back to that, I’m a dead man. I don’t want my story to end.”
The rise in opioid deaths is largely due to the increase in synthetic opioids like fentanyl, says Nick Roti, executive director of the Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The program assists federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in coordinating efforts to reduce drug trafficking and production.
“These synthetic opioids are much more deadly,” says Roti. “It’s a win-win for drug traffickers. Fentanyl is easy to make, they don’t have to wait for a growing season, and their profit margin is hundredfold compared to what it would be selling regular heroin. In fact, we’re finding now that fentanyl is in almost every aspect of the drug supply.”