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Illinois -the 21st to enter the United States union - is known for its endless miles of golden cornfields, but its official nickname is "The Prairie State" because of the tall grasses that once covered its plains. Sadly though, in recent times it's become known for something far more sinister - a growing alcohol and drug addiction crisis.
Illinois boasts a comfortable average annual income level of $88,857, and given its relative wealth, it would be tempting to think that it had been spared the scourge of drug addiction that has ravaged poorer states, but this isn't the case. Over 5,500 deaths (or about 5% of all deaths in Illinois) each year are related to the use of alcohol and other drugs. And, of the between 9,000-10,000 Illinois residents who die each year from accidental injuries, about 40% are related to the use of alcohol! Despite being well-off in terms of resources, Illinois drug and alcohol abuse continues to rise at an alarming rate.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's quite complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. Over 60,000 overdoses occurred nationwide in 2016, with nearly 175 people dying daily. Drug overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents and guns. These numbers increase every year. Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Illinois like an unstoppable blizzard, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In Illinois, nearly 80% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018—a total of 2,169 fatalities. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's a malady that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Illinois providers wrote 45.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Illinois youth, and the numbers are concerning:
34% of high school students report they've used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Illinois youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year. This is particularly concerning because we know how incredibly addictive these drugs are.
The good news for Illinois residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Prairie State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Illinois State Facts
Illinois Population: 12,415,876
Law Enforcement Officers in Illinois: 42,560
Illinois Prison Population: 61,900
Illinois Probation Population: 141,508
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 8
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Illinois
Cocaine: 2,183.3 kgs.
Heroin: 48.3 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 12.4 kgs.
Marijuana: 6,237.1 kgs.
Ecstasy: 1,826 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 440 (DEA, state, and local)
Illinois Drug Situation: Chicago is the major transportation hub and distribution center for illegal drugs throughout the Midwest, due to its geographic location and multi-faceted transportation infrastructure. Commercial trucks, passenger vehicles, package delivery services, air packages or couriers, and railways are the most common means traffickers use to transport drugs into Chicago. The majority of the investigations conducted by the Division target one of the following drug trafficking groups: Mexico-based poly-drug organizations, Colombian cocaine and heroin trafficking organizations, and Nigerian/West African groups trafficking in Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin. Chicago-based street gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings control the distribution and retail sale of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Most law enforcement agencies in Illinois cite the violent crime associated with gang-related drug trafficking as the most serious criminal threat to the state. Violent crime associated with street gangs, while declining in some major urban areas, is increasing in suburban and rural areas as these gangs expand their drug markets.
Cocaine in Illinois: Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations transport metric-ton quantities of cocaine from the Southwest Border to the Chicago Field Division on a regular basis. For example, the Chicago Police Department seized more than 6,000 kilograms of cocaine 2002. Brokers will arrange the transportation at the Southwest Border, and then travel to the Chicago area to oversee the delivery to local cells. Colombian organizations have provided as much as half of the bulk cocaine loads to the brokers as payment in lieu of cash. In Chicago, the drugs are consigned to local cells for distribution. In addition, the Chicago area serves as a distribution hub, supplying other cities throughout the Midwest and as far east as New York City. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), there were more estimated cocaine-related emergency department mentions in Chicago than any other city monitored by the program for the 3rd year in a row. Cocaine-related deaths in Chicago were the most predominant in 2002, surpassing heroin-related deaths.
Heroin in Illinois: Chicago is unique among American cities in that heroin from all four source areas-South America, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and to a lesser extent Mexico-is available on a consistent basis from year to year. Until recently, virtually all of the white heroin available in the Chicago area was smuggled in by Nigerian/West African criminal groups. But investigative intelligence and Domestic Monitor Program results indicate that South American heroin availability has become more prominent over the past few years. Increased competition amongst these groups has led directly to higher purity levels, lower prices, and widespread availability of the drug. At the retail level, heroin is distributed at numerous open-air drug markets-predominantly on the West Side of the city-that are controlled by street gangs. Street gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and Mickey Cobras control the distribution and retail sales heroin throughout the city. Rival gangs have multiple sources of supply for heroin, which contributes to heroin availability. According to the Domestic Monitor Program, the purity of heroin sold on the streets of Chicago has averaged between 20 and 25 percent every year for the past six years, indicative of a steady supply of high-quality heroin. Heroin use is at alarming levels in Chicago, with DAWN reporting that for the fifth consecutive year, there were more estimated heroin-related emergency department mentions in Chicago during 2002 than in any other U.S. city.
Methamphetamine in Illinois: Illinois is faced with a two-pronged methamphetamine problem. First, large quantities of methamphetamine produced by Mexico-based Drug Trafficking Organizations are transported to the state. Mexican drug trafficking organizations transport methamphetamine into Illinois mostly from California and Mexico. They use the same distribution channels used for other drugs. Outlaw motorcycle gangs and Hispanic street gangs control the retail distribution of methamphetamine. Although there is little evidence that methamphetamine is being distributed in the Chicago area, some Mexico-produced methamphetamine destined for markets in other areas transits Chicago. Second, small-scale methamphetamine laboratories have proliferated greatly in many areas of the state. Methamphetamine is the principal drug of concern in the rural areas of central and southern Illinois. The proliferation of small, clandestine methamphetamine laboratories throughout the rural areas force law enforcement to expend a large number of man-hours and resources on combating the lab problem. Most of the laboratories in the southern portion of the state use the Birch production method. The theft of anhydrous ammonia and the improper disposal of laboratory waste is of great concern to the small farming communities. In addition, DEA Operation Mountain Express III uncovered the transshipment of large quantities of pseudoephedrine from Canada, through Chicago, to California, where it was used to produce methamphetamine in "superlabs" managed by Mexican traffickers.
Club Drugs in Illinois: The use of club drugs, and more specifically "designer drugs", has increased sharply throughout the United States and in major cities such as Chicago. "Designer drugs" refer to specific illegal substances such as MDMA, GHB, Ketamine, PCP, and licit pharmaceuticals, most notably the painkiller OxyContin. Chicago has also ranked near the top of DAWN emergency department mentions for PCP over the last few years. Law enforcement sources in urban areas and in college towns located in many areas of the Chicago Field Division (CFD) report an increase in the abuse of these drugs. There is also a dangerous perception that many of these dangerous drugs are not harmful or addictive like cocaine and heroin. The root of the problem extends beyond the borders of Illinois and the CFD. Because of its status as an international transportation and trade center, Chicago remains vulnerable as a distribution center for drug trafficking organizations. As in other divisions across the nation, the DEA CFD is aggressively targeting dangerous drug traffickers internationally and domestically. CFD investigations have revealed direct links to MDMA sources of supply in Europe, New York City, and Miami. Regionally, Chicago serves as a secondary source area for club drugs distributed throughout the Midwest.
Money Laundering in Illinois: Chicago's status as a major financial center presents opportunities for laundering the vast sums of money that are generated from the trafficking of drugs. Designated as a High Intensity Financial Crimes Area, Chicago is a major center for the laundering of illegal drug profits. Traditionally, money laundering in Chicago was, and is still, accomplished by investing profits from illegal drug sales into legal businesses such as nightclubs and grocery stores. Mexican drug traffickers typically transport the cash in bulk via commercial vehicles or tractor-trailers to the Southwest Border and then into Mexico. Colombian traffickers, by contrast, use separate operational cells to launder money through more sophisticated mechanisms. The cells utilize foreign banks associated with countries with lax banking laws and greater secrecy principles, money exchange/wire businesses, ATM deposits and withdrawals or they may physically smuggle currency out of the United States. Colombian traffickers also use the Black Market Peso Exchange, which is a scheme to launder drug proceeds using Colombian Pesos.
Marijuana in Illinois: Marijuana is the most widely available and used illicit drug in the Division. Mexico-based poly-drug trafficking organizations transport bulk marijuana shipments concealed with legitimate goods in tractor-trailers into the Chicago area from the Southwest Border. It is common for smaller shipments of marijuana to be smuggled across the Southwest Border and later consolidated into larger shipments destined for Chicago. The primary wholesalers of marijuana in Chicago are the same Mexico-based organizations who supply most of the cocaine, methamphetamine, and Mexican heroin in the Chicago area. Mexican trafficking cells operating in the Chicago area are often composed of extended family members of associates or organization members in Mexico. In addition, local marijuana production-in both outdoor and indoor cultivation sites-reportedly is increasing in many areas.
Other Drugs in Illinois: The diversion of legitimate pharmaceuticals is a significant problem in Illinois. The problem of purchasing pharmaceuticals over the Internet has grown dramatically. Ritalin, a controversial drug prescribed for attention deficit disorder in children, may be gaining popularity as a recreational drug for teenagers. The most commonly diverted pharmaceutical drugs continue to be those containing hydrocordone, alprazolam, and phentermine. There has also been an increase in the abuse of diazepam (valium), especially 10 mg strength tablets. There has been a notable rise in the number of reported incidents of diversion of pseudoephedrine and, as a result, the number of investigations in this area is on the rise. There has been an increase in diversion of Canadian manufactured pseudoephedrine products being smuggled into the US, as opposed to domestically manufactured products being diverted from the regulated distribution chain. OxyContin remains a highly abused substance in the state. With increased media attention on OxyContin there has been a shift to an increased use and abuse of methadone.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been 13 MET deployments in the State of Illinois since the inception of the program: Kankakee, North Chicago, Aurora, Chicago Heights, Bloomington, Chicago, Round Lake, Peoria, East St. Louis, Alton, Madison, Washington Park, and Waukegan.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Illinois.
Special Topics: There are currently 14 drug courts in existence in Illinois. One additional court is planned for the end of this year if funding remains available. The state drug courts are administered by the State's Attorneys Office. The Illinois General Assembly has recently established the Drug Court system in state statute.