How Fentanyl Has Affected Illinois’ Opioid Deaths

How Fentanyl Has Affected Illinois’ Opioid Deaths

Like the rest of the United States, Illinois has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic – and fentanyl has played a big part in making that happen.

It’s possible to identify three separate waves of the opioid epidemic, but the third and latest wave is being exacerbated by fentanyl, something that wasn’t much of a factor with the other two.

So how did this come to be, and what’s the solution? Let’s explore the details.

Some Background On The Us Opioid Epidemic

Doctors have been prescribing opioids for over a century, but the large-scale misuse of opioid prescriptions didn’t really pick up until the last few decades.

It didn’t take long before experts could trace a definite “wave” of opioid use…followed by another, and then a third, which is what we’re seeing now.

First Wave

Starting in 1991, it was likely triggered by doctors who were handing out opioid medications like never before.

Not surprisingly, the late ‘90s saw a drastic increase in deaths caused by opioid overdoses.

Second Wave

Starting in 2010, increasing heroin usage led to a spike in addiction, overdoses, and fatalities.

Third Wave

Starting in 2013 and continuing to the present, this stage of the epidemic was triggered by huge quantities of fentanyl flooding the illegal drug market.

Some users don’t even know they’re consuming it, since it’s used as a substitute for fake “name-brand” opioid pills, or mixed in with other powders like cocaine.

Growing worries over the opioid epidemic contributed to a small drop in fatalities related to prescription opioids – about 7% between 2018 and 2019.

Unfortunately, that trend wasn’t destined to continue; as soon as COVID-19 arrived in the US in the first quarter of 2020, it had a devastating impact on opioid usage and deaths alike.

How COVID-19 Impacted Opioid Use

It’s not a leap to imagine that the stress of a global pandemic would increase drug usage overall, but nobody imagined that drug overdoses would rise by almost 30% between May 2020 and April 2021.

It was estimated that over 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in that 12-month period; an astonishing 75% or more of those deaths came from fentanyl, heroin, and other opioids.

Just for context, opioid overdoses resulted in the deaths of around 56,000 people in the 12 months before May 2020.

Tracking the trends of opioid-related deaths from a one-year-long period to the next, you’re looking at a 35% jump.

Stress wasn’t the only thing driving up drug usage and overdoses; another major factor was the sudden absence of community-based support systems.

Without support groups (formal or otherwise), many people increased or even started opioid use in the absence of less destructive coping mechanisms.

How Fentanyl Has Impacted Opioid Users

Fentanyl had its beginnings as a prescription painkiller in 1959, when it was used for patients who needed something more powerful than morphine. As in, between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine.

This is good news for some patients, but bad news for the people who use fentanyl illegally – and sometimes without even knowing it.

This is because fentanyl is often used in knockoff prescription pills, or to adulterate cocaine or other drugs that come in powder form.

It’s all too easy for someone to think they’re getting one thing, but end up overdosing on a substance that’s several dozen times stronger than what they were expecting.

Just to give you a clearer picture of how quickly fentanyl has made its mark on the opioid epidemic, here are a few facts:

  • New York City recorded 17 deaths from cocaine or fentanyl in 2015 and 183 deaths from the same causes in 2019.
  • In 2021, the DEA published a safety alert, saying that over 40% of illegal drugs were made using lethal amounts of fentanyl.
  • After a landmark legal verdict against them, big pharma had to make it harder to obtain opioid prescriptions, leading to disruptions throughout the manufacturing process. International borders that closed due to COVID-19 had a similar effect. Fentanyl, however, was still available, leading to its popularity among illegal manufacturers and dealers.

How The Opioid Epidemic Has Affected Illinois

Just like the other 49 states, Illinois has been severely affected by opioid use.

2020 saw 2,944 deaths from opioid-related overdoses in the state, which is more than the combined numbers of fatalities from vehicle-related accidents and homicides in the same year.

That number looks even worse when you compare it to 2019’s tally – the overdose deaths in Illinois went up by 32.7% in just one year.

Illinois has also been impacted by the rising usage of fentanyl, with the drug being identified at autopsy in about 70% of overdose deaths; the number increases to 84% if you’re examining just opioid overdoses.

Is There A Solution To The Problem?

This is an issue with multiple facets; even addressing opioid addiction on an individual level is hard, and we’re talking about an entire nation here.

One thing is sure, though; this isn’t the kind of problem to fix alone.

Individuals who struggle with opioid use can check themselves into inpatient rehab, and take advantage of counseling and community support to hopefully reduce the chance of a relapse.

This problem affects more than just those who are personally dealing with it, though, and awareness is vital for anyone who wants to be a part of the solution.

Whatever boat you happen to be in, you can find some resources below that might be useful.

Opioid Resources

  • Lincoln Recovery;
  • Illinois Opioid Statistics:
  • 833-2FINDHELP – Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances
  • Smart Recovery:

A problem that is this complex won’t have a simple answer. The important thing is to work towards finding a solution, and trust that with increased awareness, as well as support from both communities and governments, things will get better eventually.

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