A new report released in February by the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) shows that, from 2016 to 2020, Oak Park had among the highest rates of acute opioid exposure-overdose in suburban Cook County, although the mortality rate from those overdoses is lower than the county average and half that of Chicago.

The report — by Alfreda Holloway-Beth and Nhan Nguyen of the county public health department’s Epidemiology Unit, and Lee Friedman with the University of Illinois Chicago’s School of Public Health — gathered results from the Illinois Poison Center, outpatient and emergency department data from area hospitals, and the Cook County Medical Examiner. 

From January 2016 to June 2020, the report found, 1,576 people in the municipalities that fall under the Cook County health department’s jurisdiction died from opioid overdoses, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner. Among those overdose deaths, roughly 83 percent involved heroin and/or fentanyl.

Oak Park, which has its own public health department, is not included in the Cook County health department’s jurisdiction, but Oak Park was included in the report “to contextualize the data which has adversely impacted our entire county,” the authors wrote. 

In Oak Park, the rate of residents experiencing opioid exposure-overdose from 2016 to June 2020 varied by agency, with 31 per 100,000 residents reporting to the Illinois Poison Center; 102.6 per 100,000 residents reporting to hospital outpatient/emergency department facilities; and 74.5 per 100,000 residents reporting to hospital inpatient facilities. The rate of mortality from opioid exposure-overdose in Oak Park was 10.2 per 100,000.

The report’s other key findings included the “sharp increase in opioid overdose mortality rates” among middle-aged Black men, ages 35 to 64, in suburban Cook County.

“This increase mirrors national trends also showing a marked rise beginning in 2016,” the report explained. “Hospital and mortality rates were more than two times lower among Hispanic/Latinx residents compared to Black/African-American and white non-Hispanic residents” in suburban Cook County.

“In addition to the incalculable cost of human lives and the impacts to their families, friends, and communities, there is a high economic burden resulting from opioid use disorders and conditions induced by opioid use,” the report explained.

“From 2016 to 2019, the cumulative hospital charges to treat suburban Cook County residents for any opioid related issues (including medical conditions induced by opioid use, withdrawal and treatment) was almost $800 million,” the report added. “Of which, treatment of acute opioid intoxication-overdose cases alone exceeded $500 million in hospital charges.”

In a statement released Feb. 18, Holloway-Beth said that fentanyl and heroin “continue to be an incredibly lethal combination in opioid use and no group is immune to these factors in overdose deaths.”

Dr. Kiran Joshi, the senior medical officer and co-lead for CCDPH, said the report “reveals not only surprising trends, but potential blind spots in our systems that can be improved to save lives.”

Joshi added that the department “will use this analysis to inform our activities and customize intervention programs to target the needs of different groups with opioid use disorders. By sharing this data with community leaders and stakeholders, we can leverage our collective expertise and resources to address this crisis.”

You can read the entire report at: cookcountypublichealth.org/behavioral-health/opioids.

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