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Chicago No. 1 in heroin use but lags in treatment programs

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Chicago Sun-Times
by Frank Main

Clifton Sanchez sat in a silver delivery van Monday on the West Side, waiting for the heroin addicts to arrive. Sanchez, of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, works on the front lines of the city’s heroin epidemic, which he says is getting worse as treatment options dwindle. Sanchez, a 15-year employee of the Chicago Recovery Alliance and a former drug addict, dispenses syringes and needles to heroin users, does tests for HIV and other diseases and refers heroin users to treatment centers. “We used to be a million-dollar operation,” he said. “Now we are less than a half-million-dollar operation. We’ve had as many as 15 employees. Now we are down to five.” Major drug treatment centers have closed in Chicago in recent years, Sanchez added. “But people haven’t stopped using,” he said. On Tuesday, the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University released a new report that reflects the concerns of street-level social workers like Sanchez. The report said Illinois ranked 44th in the nation in 2012 in state-funded treatment admissions for heroin addiction. And Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget would cut state-funded treatment 61 percent, excluding Medicaid, the report warned. In recent years, meanwhile, the Chicago metropolitan area was ranked first in the nation in the number of people admitted to emergency rooms because of heroin use. And Cook County was first for the number of arrestees who tested positive for the drug. Women and youths are increasingly using heroin in the Chicago area, the Roosevelt University researchers noted. Earlier this year, the Chicago Police Department released a photo that highlighted the city’s massive heroin problem. A surveillance photo of an outdoor drug market showed customers standing in a line that stretched around the block.

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