Like it is in so many other major cities, heroin is becoming a serious problem in Chicago, NBC News reported. Locals in the Windy City have even nicknamed a highway known for drug trafficking and sales as “Heroin Highway.”
The rise of heroin in Chicago
Immense heroin use is not uncommon in Chicago. The city has witnessed high rates of heroin use since 2009, when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that the rate of illicit drug-related visits was significantly higher in Chicago emergency departments than the national average. The rate of heroin-related visits in Chicago among a 100,000 population was 216.2 compared to the nation’s 69.4. Since then, those numbers have only risen. In 2012, the SAMHSA found that 669,000 people in the Chicago metropolitan area over the age of 12 had used heroin at some point that year.
So many, including the Drug Enforcement Agency in Chicago, are becoming fearful.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Jack Riley to NBC News, a veteran special agent in charge of the DEA Chicago Field Division. “I’ve seen what it does to families, communities, educational settings, healthcare. It’s enormous.”
The causes behind Chicago’s heroin problem
Riley and other members of the DEA are beginning to wonder what exactly is causing those numbers to steadily increase. Though there are a few different sources of heroin outside the U.S., most notably Colombia, Mexico and other regions of South America, Chicago mainly gets its heroin from Mexico. Mexican cartels are some of the hardest to battle, Riley noted.
“Today’s heroin is being trafficked primarily by Mexican organized crime, probably the most vicious, well-financed, criminal entities we’ve ever known,” Riley said. One of the most infamous drug cartels that the DEA faces is the Sinaloa cartel.
Most of Chicago’s heroin is transferred over in El Paso and then gets placed into the hands of local drug distributors. From there it flows through the city and into the suburbs. Riley also stated that these distributors and drug cartels know about the correlation between prescription drugs and heroin. As Americans become increasingly dependent on prescription pills, they know that making heroin more prevalent for those customers will only boost sales – and addiction. Since law enforcement agencies have turned their focus toward taking prescription pills off the streets, dealers can easily replace those holes with heroin for a quick fix.
Unlike a few years ago, drug dealers do not just sell in the city. Users used to have to drive down Highway 290, more commonly known as “Heroin Highway,” to buy their opiates. Now they only have to drive about 10 minutes from their house.
Riley stated that he and other local and state officials have banded together to battle these drug distributors. Many major drug distributors and gang leaders have already been pulled off the streets, yet Riley knows that the Windy City still has a long way to go.