CITY HALL — A top alderman and a first-term Cook County commissioner want to unite their governments' efforts to combat what they call "a heroin epidemic."
"This is not a local problem," said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (D-Chicago). "It's a regional problem."
Boykin said heroin "knows no boundaries" and that dealers on Chicago's West Side attract customers from not just the city and suburbs, but the collar counties as well.
"The Eisenhower Expressway has commonly been referred to as 'Heroin Highway,'" Boykin added. "It's where individuals come and get their drugs," and then return home to consume them.
Burke cited statistics showing that heroin-related overdoses quadrupled nationwide over the last decade, and that heroin use nearly doubled from 2007 to 2013. He said 224 deaths in the city were linked to heroin in 2013 and called it "a true epidemic" and "a heroin epidemic."
On Friday, they proposed uniting city and county efforts under a Chicago-Cook Task Force Against Heroin. It would coordinate not only law enforcement, but treatment, prevention and education. It would include top elected officials in city and county government, as well as appointed officials in law enforcement and health.
They said a similar task force in DuPage County cut heroin deaths from 46 in 2013 to 33 last year.
"I do believe that we need to cooperate and share ideas," Burke said.
Dr. Dan Lustig, vice president of clinical services at Haymarket Center, said those addicted to prescription pain killers are driving the heroin epidemic, as they shift after their prescription runs out, or they simply switch because heroin is cheaper, as low as $10 a hit.
According to Lustig, it's also not a matter of simply seeking treatment, as many addicts receive treatment, are released and then go back to using and overdose because they're not used to their previous level of tolerance for the drug.
"It's not just about treatment," he said. "It's about education." Lustig said he expected the task force to streamline tactics in those areas as well.
Boykin said he'd submit legislation on the task force to the Cook County Board next week, while Burke said he'd prepare something ahead of for the City Council meeting Sept. 24.
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