Opioid deaths in Chicago on pace to reach similar levels as record-setting 2021

Opioid-related deaths in Chicago this year are on pace to match those in 2021, when a record number of people died from overdoses in the city, health officials say.

There have been 632 opioid-related deaths recorded in Chicago through June this year, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office and the Chicago Department of Public Health. There were 656 opioid overdose deaths reported in the city through the same period in 2021.

Last year, 1,428 people died of opioid-related overdoses in Chicago, the highest number ever recorded in the city and a 10% increase from 2020, which saw 1,302 opioid-related deaths.

There were more opioid-related deaths in 2020 and 2021 in Chicago than homicides and traffic crash fatalities combined, the public health agency said, adding that this would also be true in 2022 pending final official data.


"In terms of the amount of attention that this particular public health issue has gotten, we would like to see more attention as a city because opioid-related overdoses are a medical problem that is treatable and largely preventable," said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady during a media briefing Tuesday.

Though most opioid-related emergency responses are concentrated on the West Side, all of Chicago’s communities had an overdose-related EMS call in 2021 and 2022, CDPH said.

To help curb overdose deaths, the health department started dispensing doses of the life-saving drug naloxone from wall-mounted boxes at local libraries. So far, the boxes are available at 51 locations.

The department’s goal is to have everyone carry and know how to administer naloxone, commercially available as Narcan.

The department has also distributed more than 77,000 fentanyl test strips to individuals and organizations citywide since October 2021. Fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin but 10 times stronger. A large majority of opioid deaths in Chicago this year and last involved fentanyl.

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Another important way to reduce harm is to de-stigmatize opioid treatments and increase funding for programs that help those with mental health conditions, which can contribute to the development of a substance use disorder, CDPH said.