Alarmed at the epidemic of opioid overdoses on the West Side of Chicago, Representative Danny K. Davis (D- 7th) late Tuesday, August 31, announced he has formed a coalition of drug prevention groups aimed at reducing opioid overdose deaths.
In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Crusader, Davis said addictions are “off the chart.” One of the big issues confronting America, especially the African American community in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, is opioid abuse and addiction and substance abuse, which he says negatively impact Black communities.
“There is no part of Chicago that is worse hit than the West Side,” Davis said. There are programs that service these addictions, and funds are used for prevention and treatment, Davis said, “while they are doing good work, the consequences and results are that addictions are off the chart.”
Saying more has to be done to raise awareness of this problem and to generate more funds for prevention and treatment, Davis commented there are between 25 and 30 statewide advocate groups and providers that have united to use September as “recovery month” to heighten awareness of this issue.
At 10 a.m., Saturday, September 25, this recovery coalition will hold a Community Hope Walk, convening at the Garfield Park Gold Dome, 100 N. Central Park Ave., for a pre-rally kickoff. They will proceed to Garfield Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Blvd., and have a massive rally of speakers, entertainers, and services, including free vaccinations and health screenings.
“The target is to get 1,000 individuals who have not already signed up” to be a part of this mission to reduce opioid use and death. They can sign up with any of those working with Representative Davis to help raise awareness of this drug epidemic.
“We got to do something to break the cycle of opioid deaths,” Davis said. “Last year, we had one block where five or six people overdosed within a week’s time. Drug use, opioid addiction is out of hand and more must be done.”
Elaborating, Davis noted, “An ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure. There are far too many people in our communities who have been overcome, already given up and have succumbed to the impact of drugs that control their lives.” He added, “We owe it to ourselves not to let drugs over-run our communities.”
When asked if the epidemic of opioid deaths is a West Side problem, Davis said this issue affects all of Chicago, including Blacks and whites from both African American neighborhoods and white suburbs. “Everybody needs to know of the impact of these opioids and illegal substances that are overrunning our communities,” he stated.
Asked if this problem of opioid use and abuse is the reason for the spike in gun violence, Davis said, “You have to look at the why—like people who are dissatisfied, anxiety-ridden, unfulfilled people who resort to other things to help them” survive.
“If a person is totally fulfilled in their lives, then they don’t have to resort to these mind-altering, debilitating forces that control their behavior rather than them controlling themselves.”
Davis is urging unity in “reducing this plague on our community.”
Other leaders, like Representative LaShawn Ford (D-8th), who called the opioid explosion a “generational trauma,” and Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer (2nd), who passed a resolution calling gun violence a public health crisis costing between $30-40 million in treating trauma, blame the use of opioids on the spike in gun violence.
They blamed the addictive drug for a sought-after “quick fix” they say doesn’t last very long. In an interview with the Chicago Crusader, Deer, who is also chairman of the Cook County Health and Hospital System and was appointed to the National Institutes of Health, said opioids are a problem on the South Side, too.
But he explained the point of entry for this drug is I-290 (Eisenhower Expressway) often called the “Heroin Highway” because of those coming to get this drug on the West Side, people who live downtown and in both the south and northern suburbs. The use of this drug, Deer said, often occurs in communities that are underserved.
Deer attributed the opioid use and “the quick fix, to crime. They are mugging, carjacking people” to get money for the next high. “Opioids definitely contribute to violence including gun violence,” he explained.
Representative Ford, who is the co-chair of the West Side Opioid and Heroin Task Force, quoted a report released by the Illinois Department of Public Health Tuesday, August 31, that said year-to-date the number of opioid fatalities in Illinois is 2,944. In 2019, there were 2,219 deaths from overdosing on opioids. Ford said in 2013 there were 1,072 overdoses of opioid victims. “Today, the numbers are greater because of the pandemic.”
Given the isolation requirements of this pandemic, Ford said people are overdosing on opioids more. “More Black people die of fatal overdose than whites. It is a sign that there is too much access of this drug in our communities. Why are our communities having an overflow of heroin?
“Black people travel to other peoples’ communities to shop for goods and services, but people come to our communities to buy illegal drugs and guns, and that is not right,” said Ford.
“Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. We know this problem is not isolated to Blacks. This is an international problem and Black people are getting the worst end of it,” Ford said. He urged everyone to purchase Narcan, which is a reversal drug that saves the lives of those overdosing on opioids.
Agreeing with Ford, Deer said, “We know that many individuals in the African American community are impacted by this, but it is not just an African American problem. It affects white America as well. They are the ones who come from downtown and the suburbs to get a fix, but it hits our Black community in a great way,” Deer said.
“We know our people, once they are impacted by this, there is a trickle-down effect because their families, neighborhoods and homelessness are impacted, and we tend to get the raw deal from our health care perspective,” Deer said. Those addicted use opioids in pill form or needle.
“They are very creative. It is a high that doesn’t last very long,” he said which causes them to begin looking for the next high. As part of Davis’ coalition, Deer said he is engaging in “liberation education” about this drug.
Deer said we must break the cycle of these drugs and is calling for equity including “back taxes because we cannot get equity until we get back pay,” he said referring to reparations.
Another coalition member, Donald Dew, president/CEO of Habilitative Systems, Inc., said, “Opioids is a huge problem. Our folks are self-medicating,” giving their problems “as a way to cope with the pain and trauma they experience.”
Working with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Dew is targeting 10 West Side zip codes impacted by the opioid epidemic and other chronic diseases.
There are prescription opioids like Oxycontin and Vicodin, Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and heroin, all used to alleviate pain. Both Ford and Deer agree with the National Association of Counties (NACo) that gun violence has risen significantly since the beginning of last year’s pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, EMS responded to 1,100 opioid overdoses in the Austin community and 745 opioid overdoses in West Garfield Park.
According to Everytown Research, “Every day, more than 100 Americans are killed with guns and more than 230 are shot and wounded. The effects of gun violence in America extend far beyond these casualties.” The report says gun violence shapes and reshapes the lives of millions of Americans who witness it because they either know someone who was shot or live in fear of being the next victim.
According to this report, in an average year, gun violence in America kills nearly 40,000 people, and up to 120,000 annually are directly impacted by gun violence injuries.
“These injuries whether direct or indirect cost the United States nearly $280 billion,” according to the research. “This total cost constitutes three different levels of cost.”
According to Everytown Research, there are immediate costs starting at the time of an incident; subsequent costs such as treatment, long-term physical and mental health care, forgone earnings, and criminal justice costs; and cost estimates of quality-of-life lost over a victim’s lifespan.
“Survivors, families, communities, employers, and taxpayers all pay for the enormous costs associated with this violence, whether they own a gun or not, ”the report stated. “The impact of gun violence on public health deserves action from all levels of government, especially counties.”
Representative Davis is hoping the substance abuse organizations he has embraced will help develop overdose prevention services needed to reduce the number of deaths in all of Chicagoland.