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Chicago's Suburbanites Graduate from Oxy to Smack

Prescription pills have long since overtaken heroin use in the US, but they can also lead back there.

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White women lead the trend. Photo via

By Anthony Daconti

09/28/11

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US deaths from prescription drugs may have tripled nationwide between 2000 and 2008, greatly exceeding heroin-related fatalities, but Chicago is seeing numerous pill-poppers moving on to get hooked on the illegal opiate. Experts like Jake Epperly, owner of New Hope Recovery Center in Chicago and Geneva, see prescription drug addiction in the Windy City hitting both teens looking for a high and adults seeking pain relief. But growing numbers of white suburbanites now graduate from pain pills, such as oxycodone, to heroin—often in reaction to their supplies of prescription drugs drying up. As prescription drug abuse increases in Chicago, so the use of traditional street drugs like heroin continues to spread from the city to the surrounding counties. Heroin deaths in Lake County rose 130% between 2000 and 2009, for example. And although Chicago's number of heroin-related deaths during the decade up to 2008 fell overall, the figure increased 40% among white women. Epperly believes that prescription drug and heroin abuse are “intertwined [and] similar enough that addicts who run out of one may take the other as a substitute.” Users who start on prescription meds, which many consider to be “safe,” find it a simple matter to move on to heroin, which is “now easier to try because it’s pure enough to snort or smoke rather than inject,” explains Epperly. In Illinois, drug deaths first outnumbered traffic fatalities in 2006—when 1,410 drug-related cases were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just this year, nationwide figures were reported to have caught up with this grim trend. Yesterday John Roberts, a retired Chicago Police officer, launched a drug awareness group in the wake of his son’s death from a heroin overdose.

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