Chicago area use of heroin doubles

Paul Thissen

Chicago area use of heroin doubles

Evanston drug center cites increase in users

By Paul Thissen

The Chicago metropolitan area has seen a dramatic increase in heroin users in the past decade, a new study shows, and Evanston has not been immune from the trend.

A study released by Roosevelt University researchers last month shows hospital discharges more than doubled in suburban Cook County for heroin-related issues between 1995 and 2002. The rate of heroin users in the Chicago metropolitan area increased by 167 percent in that period, the study showed.

PEER Services, Inc., an Evanston treatment center for adults and adolescents with drug or alcohol problems, has seen an increase in heroin users, said PEER director Kate Mahoney. PEER, located at 906 Davis St., provides methadone treatment for heroin addicts.

Mahoney emphasized that although heroin usage is rising quickly, it is far from reaching epidemic proportions.

“People should not be panicking over this,” Mahoney said, but she added, “People need to understand the risks.”

The Roosevelt University study indicates that heroin use is increasing fastest among white teens. Mahoney said most of her patients are between 18 and 24 years old. Precise statistics about hospital visits in Evanston were unavailable due to patient privacy policies.

Mahoney also noted that many more heroin users were injecting the drug — a fact that introduces other health hazards, such as increased risks of contracting AIDS and hepatitis. The Roosevelt University study found that the number of Illinois users under age 24 who admitted to injecting the drug increased by more than 700 percent.

The increase has not hit Evanston in full force. Deputy Chief Michael Perry of Evanston Police Department said heroin is not a significant issue in Evanston, but the department always is watching for its possible arrival.

According to the study, the increase in heroin use has been most dramatic in Chicago’s more distant suburbs not in Cook County. In DuPage, Lake, Kane, McHenry and Will counties, hospital discharges relating to heroin more than tripled from 1995 to 2002, although the number still was less than in Cook County suburbs and 10 times less than in Chicago itself.

Mahoney said she thought the increase in heroin use in Evanston was smaller than the increase in surrounding suburbs, but the jump in usage still merits concern.

“Any use of drugs is alarming, so while the numbers are small, they are significant,” she said.

According to one indicator tracked by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the Chicago area had the highest rate of heroin-related incidents in the nation in 2002. The metropolitan area also had the second-most heroin-related deaths in 2001 and the second-highest growth rate of heroin-related deaths between 1996 and 2001.