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Revised February 2014

Drug Abuse Patterns and Trends in Chicago—Update: January 2014

Lawrence J. Ouellet, Ph.D.

Overview of Findings: The increase in the numbers of heroin-related deaths from 2011 to 2012 in the suburban counties around Chicago was the most important finding for the Chicago area for this reporting period. The increases in heroin-related deaths were observed in   the suburban Chicago counties of DuPage, Lake, Will, McHenry, and Kane. Epidemiological indicators suggested that heroin, cocaine, and marijuana/cannabis continued to be the most common illicit substances appearing in drug indicators in Chicago during this reporting period. These were also the drugs that were most frequently identified among drug reports from items seized by law enforcement and analyzed in National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) forensic laboratories in the first half of 2013; they accounted for 76 percent of all drug reports among drug items seized and analyzed.

Updated Drug Abuse Trends and Emerging Patterns

Cocaine indicators suggested a continuing decline from previous reporting periods. Cocaine fell to third behind alcohol among primary treatment admissions to publicly funded treatment programs in fiscal year (FY) 2009 and remained behind alcohol in FYs 2010 and 2012. In response to budget cuts, numbers of treatment admissions for all substances declined in FYs 2009 and 2010. In FY 2012, 5,665 primary cocaine treatment admissions were reported for the Chicago area, compared with 7,274 admissions in FY 2010. Cocaine ranked third among all drug reports from drug items seized and analyzed in NFLIS laboratories in Chicago in the first half of 2013, with 5,568 drug reports (15.9 percent of the total). This represents a decline in numbers of cocaine drug reports from the 6,098 reports in the first half of 2012, but a slight increase in the proportion of the total (16.6 percent) in that period.

Heroin was the major opiate used for nonmedical purposes in the Chicago area; many heroin indicators have been increasing or maintaining already elevated levels since the mid-1990s. Numbers of primary heroin treatment admissions surpassed those for cocaine in FY 2001, and since then they have accounted for the highest proportion of treatment admissions among Chicago residents. In FY 2012, there were 15,350 primary heroin treatment admissions in Chicago, compared with 16,044 in FY 2010. Drug reports identified as heroin among items seized by law enforcement and analyzed in NFLIS laboratories increased in the first half of 2013 from the first half of 2012, with 19.4 and 16.8 percent of total analyzed items, respectively. Heroin purity at the street level has remained between 10 and 20 percent for most of the past decade based on the DEA’s Heroin Domestic Monitoring Program. The Illinois State Police Division of Forensic Services laboratory reported an increase in December 2013–January 2014 in the number of seized and analyzed drug items containing heroin that also contained fentanyl. African-American injection drug users were an aging cohort, while among Whites, new cohorts of young, mostly suburban, heroin injectors continued to emerge. The increase in heroin indicators, including numbers of heroin-related deaths, in suburban counties around Chicago (DuPage, Lake, Will, McHenry, and Kane) was the most important finding for the Chicago area for this reporting period. Heroin-related deaths in DuPage County increased from 27 deaths in 2011 to 42 in 2012. They increased in Lake County from 42 deaths in 2011 to 48 in 2012. In Will County, such deaths increased from 30 in 2011 to 54 in 2012. McHenry County reported 9 heroin-related deaths in 2011 and 16 deaths in 2012. Finally, in Kane County, there were 9 heroin-related deaths in 2011, and 27 deaths in 2012.

Other Opiates: Hydrocodone (compared with oxycodone) continued to be the most available pre­scription opioid to nonprescribed users for nonmedical use. Hydrocodone continued to rank fourth among total drug reports from items seized by law enforcement and analyzed in NFLIS laboratories in the Chicago area. In the first half of 2013, 0.8 percent of total drug reports (n=300) were identified as hydrocodone, compared with 1.0 percent of the total (n=360) in the first half of 2012. The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) of 9th–12th grade students in Chicago asked for the first time if students had ever used nonprescribed opioids and stimu­lants; these drugs were the third most mentioned drug for lifetime use by students (at 9.8 percent), after marijuana (at 42.6 percent) and inhalants (at 10.7 percent).

Methamphetamine indicators were low compared with other drugs and relatively stable in the Chicago area, although methamphetamine’s rank among drug reports from drug items seized and analyzed in Chicago NFLIS laboratories increased from 13th place in 2012 to 11th in the first half of 2013. Many items analyzed in Chicago area forensic laboratories that contained drug reports identified as methamphetamine were sold as other drugs, particularly as ecstasy or   “Molly.” Numbers of primary methamphetamine treatment admissions were reported as very low in the Chicago area, although the number of admissions in FY 2012 (n=123) was substantially larger than the 59 such admissions in FY 2010. Beyond Chicago, methamphetamine use was most common in downstate and western Illinois based on drug indicators such as primary treatment admissions.

Marijuana/Cannabis: Indicators for marijuana in the Chicago area were high relative to other drugs and stable in this reporting period. In FY 2012, 6,625 primary treatment admissions for marijuana were relatively stable compared with 6,744 such admissions in FY 2010. According to the 2011 YRBS, the proportions of 9th–12th grade students in Chicago who had ever used marijuana remained stable (with 41.0 reporting lifetime marijuana use in 2009 and 42.6 reporting lifetime use in 2011). Drug reports identified as marijuana/cannabis continued to rank first among all reports from seized drug items analyzed by NFLIS laboratories, and they continued to represent more than one-half of all drug reports in the current reporting period. They declined slightly, however, in the first half of 2013, to 55.2 percent of total drug reports, from 57.1 percent in the first half of 2012.

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) indicators suggested relatively low and stable levels, but several showed increases, including use-prevalence among 9th–12th grade student school survey data. There was a statistically significant increase in lifetime MDMA use among the students in Chicago, from 3.3 percent in 2005 to 6.9 percent in 2011. Ethnographic and survey reports suggested that MDMA (or drugs sold as MDMA) was popular among young, low-income African-Americans and that it was readily available in street drug markets. The State Police forensic laboratory reported that most analyzed drug items sold as ecstasy/Molly do not contain MDMA when tested.

Other Drugs: According to the 2011 YRBS, the proportions of 9th–12th grade students in Chicago who reported even having used inhalants continued to increase and were at the highest level since 1997. The increase in student lifetime inhalant use, from 7.0 percent in 2005 to 10.7 percent in 2011, was statistically significant. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and PCP (phencyclidine) indicators showed low levels of use relative to other drugs. PCP drug reports among items seized and analyzed in Chicago area NFLIS laboratories for the first half of 2013 remained above the national average, and PCP drug reports have nearly doubled as a proportion of all seizures compared with 2011. Drug reports identified as PCP among items analyzed in NFLIS laboratories continued to rank eighth among the top 10 drug reports, with  the numbers and proportions increasing from 195 drug reports in the first half of 2012 (0.5 percent of total drug reports) to 240 reports (0.7 percent of the total) in the first half of 2013. The Illinois State forensics laboratory reported that the drug 5-methoxy­N,N-diisopropyltryptamine (5-MeO-DIPT (“Foxy methoxy”), which may be sold as MDMA, fell from 10th to 39th place among drug reports among items seized and analyzed in Chicago NFLIS laboratories from the first half of 2012 to the first half of 2013.

Synthetic cannabinoids (cannabimimetics) NFLIS data showed an increase in the number of drug reports identified as cannabimimetics among items seized and analyzed in NFLIS laboratories from 2011 to the first half of 2013. Drug reports identified as cannabimimetics among analyzed items increased from 154 in the first half of 2012 to 185 drug reports in the first half of 2013.

Overdose prevention: In January 2014, the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office became the first county sheriff’s office in Illinois to carry the heroin overdose preventing drug Narcan® (naloxone) in squad cars. Illinois recently became the fifth State to enact a “Good Samaritan” bill that would exempt from prosecution indi­viduals caught with relatively small amounts of controlled substances as a result of seeking emer­gency medical assistance (for self or others) for a drug overdose. However, conversations with activists interested in this issue suggest that some counties outside of Chicago are ignoring or circumventing the law.

Data Sources: Student drug use data for 2011 for students in grades 9–12 in Chicago public schools came from YRBS, prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heroin death data came from public reports and the news media. Forensic laboratory data came from NFLIS for the first half of 2013 and from the Chicago division of the Illinois State Police Division of Forensic Services. Ethnographic data were from observations and interviews conducted by the Community Outreach Intervention Projects, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago. Treatment admissions data were provided by the Illinois Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse for FYs (July 1–June 30) 2009–2012. Treatment admissions data for FY 2013 were not available at the time of this report. Heroin purity data came from the DEA’s Heroin Domestic Monitoring Program.

For inquiries concerning this report, please contact Lawrence J. Ouellet, Ph.D., Research Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, The University of Illinois at Chicago, Mail Code 923, 1603 West Taylor Street, Chicago, IL 60612, Phone: 312–355–0145, Fax: 312–996–1450, E-mail: ljo@uic.edu .

This page was last updated February 2014

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