Chicago Area Fighting Surge in Heroin Use

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Julien Behal / PA Wire / AP

First it’s tangled in the trial of an ex-governor, then it loses a major Supreme Court gun ban case, and now, as if the Windy City needed another blow, a new report is out saying heroin use has become as thick in the Chicago area as deep dish pizza.

Researchers from Roosevelt University released the study Monday, which cites as part of its evidence a sharp increase to 24,000 people admitted to emergency wards for problems related to using smack. Chicagoland now has the highest number of any metropolitan area in this category.

Other factors include soaring overdose rates in counties surrounding Chicago, but a drop in Cook County itself, where Chicago sits; a large percentage of the inmates at the Cook County Jail testing positive for heroin use; and a rise in the number of people shooting up. Beside how the drug spreads HIV infection, creates new stakes in drug wars and increases street violence, the one of the biggest surprises for public health advocates is the demographic shift.

“It used to be that most heroin users were African-American males from the Vietnam era,” Dan Bigg, of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a needle exchange program, told the Chicago Tribune. “In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a shift to a much greater group, starting with the 18-24, suburban, Caucasian population.”