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Last month, Ben’s Friends, a national support group for people in the hospitality industry struggling with addiction, began hosting weekly meetings in Chicago.

Brian Hackel, right, an overdose prevention specialist, helps Steven Baez, a client suffering addiction, find a vein to inject intravenous drugs at an overdose prevention center, at OnPoint NYC in New York, N.Y., Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. (AP Photo / Seth Wenig)

Supporters say the sites — also known as safe injection sites or supervised consumption spaces — are humane, realistic responses to the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. Critics see them as illegal and defeatist answers to the harm that drugs wreak on users and communities.

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Local advocates say so-called safe injection sites – safe havens for people to use drugs with protections against fatal overdoses – are crucial, especially with a rise in overdoses amid the pandemic.

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A Chicago-based addiction treatment center, which like others nationwide has faced fierce opposition to opening suburban branches, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to force one suburb to stop blocking its expansion plans.

A health care professional draws Naloxone into a syringe. (WTTW News via CNN)

The city is expanding a program that works to keep people from getting a drug offense and, instead, places them into treatment. Eleven police districts are currently eligible for the program, but officials say it will be available in all districts by the end of the year.

In this Sunday, May 10, 2020 file photo, Sharon Rivera adjusts flowers and other items left at the grave of her daughter, Victoria, at Calvary Cemetery in New York, on Mother’s Day. (AP Photo / Kathy Willens, File)

Overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government reported Wednesday. That estimate far eclipses the high of about 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29% increase.

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Opioid-related overdoses in Cook County increased by more than 40% last year. While this spike began in December 2019 — before COVID-19 was widespread — the pandemic accelerated the trend. We discuss the state of the opioid epidemic in the Chicago area.

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Breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction is a challenge made even tougher once the criminal justice system gets involved. A new program is helping those recovering find refuge in their own homes.

The U.S. government is easing requirements that made it difficult for doctors to treat opioid addiction using the medication. New guidelines announced Tuesday, April 27, 2021, mean doctors will no longer need eight hours of training to prescribe buprenorphine. (AP Photo / Elise Amendola)

New guidelines announced Tuesday mean doctors and other health workers will no longer need extra hours of training to prescribe buprenorphine, a gold standard medicine that helps with cravings.

This Tuesday, May 8, 2007, file photo shows the Purdue Pharma logo at its offices in Stamford, Conn. (AP Photo / Douglas Healey, File)

Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, Justice Department officials told The Associated Press.

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The impact of the coronavirus is being felt in nearly every aspect of daily life, but it’s not the only health crisis people are facing. “Addiction can kill you as well,” said Aaron Weiner, a local addiction services director.

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State promises budget boost for programs

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, gambling in Illinois was spreading like wildfire, with more places to make a bet than Nevada. But is the state upholding its promise to provide addiction services at the same pace it expands gambling?

Psychedelic mushrooms growing in Veracruz, Mexico. (Alan Rockefeller / Wikimedia Commons)

Chicago could become the largest city in the nation to decriminalize natural psychedelics like mushrooms and peyote.

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Taking a break from alcohol after the holidays has become known as the “dry January” trend. But now that January is over, some people are extending their sobriety, trying out a social life that’s not dependent on alcohol.

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As part of federal efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, the National Health Service Corps has awarded $80 million in student loan repayments to clinicians working to treat addiction, including 41 in Illinois.

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As health officials deal with a mysterious vaping illness, they’re urging people to stop using e-cigarette products. We get advice and tips for quitting from a University of Chicago psychology professor who says “the main thing is you get started.”