Chicago Area Heroin Epidemic – Are We Winning the Battle?
Writers note: While researching the heroin epidemic in Chicago and suburbs, including Northwest Indiana, I discovered a wealth of information, far too much to convey in one article. Iâ€™ve divided the subject into smaller facets to paint a more complete picture of this serious problem and how it affects our area. This first installment focuses on how it gets here and how itâ€™s influenced the high-murder rate among rivaling gangs in Chicago.
One may or may not be surprised to learn that heroin addiction in Chicago and nearby suburbs, including areas in Northwest Indiana, has climbed to an all-time high. Availability is no problem, since drug cartels deliver large quantities of the stuff from Mexico via I-65 and the Eisenhower Expressway -commonly called â€œheroin highwayâ€ by those who use it to deliver or buy their stash of the often deadly drug. The Eisenhower is the portion of I-290 from Interstate 294 to the east. Statistically, in DuPage county alone, more died from heroin overdoses than from traffic accidents. 70 deaths in 20 months means itâ€™s become quite a problem. Some call it an epidemic. And it is the younger users who are most being affected.
â€œOnly nicotine ranks higher in a dependency profile,â€ said Kathleen Kane-Willis, who is the director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, in a Channel 7 News interview last March. â€œOf those who are offered heroin, one in five will try it. Of those who try it, one in four will become dependent on it. Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities vice president and chief operating officer, Peter Polnca, adds, â€œWeâ€™re not talking the 50-year-old heroin addict. Weâ€™re talking about the 16-year-old captain of the football team.â€
Tried and true methods of education, fear and exposure have done little to stop our nationâ€™s young people from delving into the death-spin this drugâ€™s use creates. Heroin addicts are especially at risk of death by overdose, but they are also at risk of infections spread by dirty needles, hepatitis and abscesses. Then thereâ€™s the procurement and exposure to criminal elements that creates itâ€™s own sort of risks, including violence and death. Add to that the fact that finding the necessary money to support the habit brings to the table other elements like theft and prostitution. Itâ€™s not a pretty scenario. Kids are literally killing each other in gang wars over distribution territory and drug money. Perhaps the most dismal side of this particular addiction is that few heroin addicts get old; most die early. Life becomes a hell of mere survival with only one focus – getting and using.
Drugs and Money – Where it Comes From
A lengthy expose in Bloomburg magazine outlines why they think Chicago and suburbs have been so badly hit with the â€œheroin epidemic.â€ Mexican Cartels, like the Sinaloa, led by kingpin Joaquin Guzman, have flooded Chicago with 80 percent of itâ€™s heroin, as well as other drugs, with a street value of three billion dollars annually. In October of 2011, two of Guzmanâ€™s grunts were en route to deliver three million dollars in drug money just collected from Chicago gang members, when they were ambushed by three members of the Gangster Disciples, as the couriers stopped the semi to change a tire. Typically it is gangs that buy from Guzman to sell on the streets, and this particular gang decided it wanted the drugs they purchased and their money back. So the Disciples ambushed the semi at gunpoint, retaking it and the money it held. One courier escaped and cops were led on a 15 mile chase up I-65 to capture the rogue semi and itâ€™s new occupants. Once in custody, Guzmanâ€™s courier was worried less about being busted than what the cartel might do if they thought he lost the money he was delivering, so he pleaded with the police to provide proof that they had confiscated the money. Without that to take back to Guzman, his demise would be certain, and it wouldnâ€™t be a fast or easy death. This shows the extent to which those involved will put themselves, and others, in grave danger. This is serious business. Cartel violence in Mexico is well known. Gang violence here is escalating. Sometimes itâ€™s adolescents killing each other over the stuff.
Though it seems that what goes on in Mexico is far removed from the drug etiquette of the Midwest, it is through violence and gang warfare that Guzman peddles his wares – though he has never set foot in Chicago. Gangs are the principle sellers, and drug territory is earned through bloodshed. As the competition thinned out, Guzmanâ€™s enterprise became a near-monopoly and is linked to the surge in gun violence. Guzman exploited the fact that gangs were splintering. Gang members previously divided selling territory from public housing towers. Once the projects were razed, however, gangs spread out, including in Northwest Indiana, claiming their turf. Murders in Chicago have skyrocketed, though overall crime has declined. Over the fourth of July holiday, there were 47 shootings that left 11 dead. All over drug turf.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy reported to Bloomberg that, â€œthe biggest driver of violence in Chicago – and where itâ€™s becoming difficult to address – is the factionalizing or breaking down of the bigger gangs into these smaller cliques.â€ There are roughly 625 gang offshoots, including 100 newly identified. Much of the heroin ends up in the predominantly Hispanic Little Village area of the city. From there, African American gangs typically sell on the streets – many areas accessed by the â€œheroin highway.â€
There is speculation that once Illinois medical marijuana is in swing, and as more states pass regulations for medical use of the drug, that the cartels may find ways to insert their presence in that, as well.