Though DuPage County officials say the fight against heroin is trending in the right direction, another uptick in heroin-related deaths and more than 60 overdose saves in 2015 show the problem is still pervasive.
DuPage County Coroner Rich Jorgensen said 43 died last year in heroin overdose incidents, above 2014's 36 and rivaling 2013's 46 that kicked off widespread public discussion and action on the topic.
Jorgensen attributed the upswing largely to the deadly addition of the chemical fentanyl, used to cut the drug and increase its potency, to local heroin distribution.
"We were trending to be lower than we were last year until that fentanyl episode happened," he said, referring to a sharp increase in deaths in fall 2015 that pushed the total past 2014's number.
Jorgensen said the additive is becoming more frequently found in batches of heroin in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Most who died were in their 20s, he said, though the coroner's office had seen victims into their 60s. More than three-quarters of the deaths were men.
The coroner's announcementnearly coincided with the announcement by the DuPage County Health Department that its Narcan program – which gives the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone in an easy-to-use nasal spray to police officers and other first responders – has been used 100 times since its implementation in 2014.
According to the department, 61 people were saved in 2015, though Jorgensen previously has stated it is impossible to say which of those would have survived the overdose without it.
Jorgensen said the high number of heroin-related deaths shows the county still has a serious problem with drug addiction and needs to continue its education programs.
"The ostrich idea of just denying it and not addressing the problem is not going to work," he said. "We can continue to address this problem by identifying that it's there and teaching our kids about how dangerous and destructive it is. We need to continue to create ways of fighting the disbursement of these drugs and to rehabilitate people who become addicted to these drugs."