Illinois’ Opioid Crisis: By The Numbers


ILLINOIS — As the opioid crisis has swept across the country, many states are working to determine how to stem the problem.

From addiction and “doctor shopping” to huge spikes in the frequency of opioid prescriptions, the increase in opioids has gripped America, with more people dying of opioid use in 2016 than the entire Vietnam War. According to state health officials, the number of deaths involving opioids nationally has quadrupled since 1999, with Americans under 50 dying of drug overdoses more than anything else.

In addition to heroin, opioids include a wide range of other highly-addictive prescription pain medications such as oxycodone, codeine, morphine, hydrocodone and, increasingly, fentanyl.

Illinois has not been immune to the health epidemic, though fortunately state leaders have stepped up to establish safety protocols and new regulations — such as an all-hours opioid help hotline and new rules to help prevent the over-prescription of opioids — that have already started to make a dent in the issue.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has created a multi-layered plan for the next three years with the goal of reducing opioid-related deaths in Illinois by 33 percent, which includes legislation recently signed by Rauner that requires doctors with licenses to prescribe controlled substances to register with the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program, which has received thousands of new users since its implementation.

Still, the Illinois Department of Public Health warns that the opioid crisis is likely to “get worse before it gets better.”

Illinois is on the right track to combat the problem, but to truly appreciate what state leaders, health officials and residents are up against, we first must look to the data.

In this story, we break down the presence of opioids in Illinois by the numbers.

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The Problem

The number of opioid-related deaths across the country has exploded in recent years. And, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Illinois’ rise in opioid-related overdose deaths is proportionate to the national average.

Between 1999 and 2016, the rate of opioid-related deaths in Illinois increased nearly five times, steadily rising from 483 deaths in 1999 to 1,947 in 2016. Data shows counties bordering on Cook, as well as counties with high populations such as Madison, St. Clair, Winnebago and Peoria, were “major” factors in the number of opioid overdose deaths statewide recorded in 2016, according to state health officials.

 [Illinois Department of Human Services]

[Illinois Department of Human Services]


Of the 2,278 total drug overdose deaths in Illinois in 2016, over 80 percent were opioid-related, Illinois health department data shows.

The sharp rise in opioid abuse in recent years alone, particularly synthetic opioids like fentanyl,  has contributed to the increase, health experts say.

From 2013-2016, the number of opioid overdoses rose by 82 percent, with “synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and its analogues...disproportionately contributing to the rise in both fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the state, with a tenfold increase from 2013 to 2016,” according to the state’s health department. Health officials have said synthetic opioids can be hundreds to thousands more times powerful than heroin.

 Colette Payne at work. [Provided]

While the number of heroin-related deaths increased by nearly four times between 2012-2016, fatal overdoses linked to synthetic opioids simultaneously rose, from 84 in 2012 to 907 in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Between July 2016 and September 2017 alone, emergency departments across Illinois saw a 66 percent increase in the number of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

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Emergency responders also required more administrations of Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication. Between 2013-2015, the number of Emergency Medical Service workers who needed two Naloxone applications rather than one increased by 50 percent. Between that same period, the number of emergency responders who required three Naloxone doses rose by 75 percent, with the increases largely attributed to synthetic opioids.

The prevalence of opioids has also been linked to a two-fold increase in the number of fatal motor accidents in 2016, the rise in number of opioid-related homicides and 30 percent increase in number of gun-related deaths (which include suicides, accidental shootings and homicides), according to the Illinois health department.

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Solutions Showing Promise

Despite the national and state-level opioid abuse and overdose rates, places like Illinois have already begun to roll-out plans designed to tackle the problem.

While state officials have unveiled an action plan to decrease the number of opioid-related deaths by one-third over a three-year period, smaller steps in the immediate have helped to more provide resources and accountability.

A new all-hours opioid hotline established by Gov. Rauner has already received more than 1,200 calls, according to the health department, with many callers asking about Naloxone.

Rauner also recently signed legislation that requires doctors with licenses to prescribe controlled substances to register with the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program. In an effort to curb “doctor shopping,” a trend that involves patients seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors at once, prescribers with controlled substance licenses must also check patients’ medical records for prior opioid use before new opioid prescriptions.

In its first month, doctors and pharmacists checked the system more than 2 million times, and more than 23,000 prescribers in Illinois have been added to the program since the law took effect.

While health department officials have recognized Rauner’s goal of reducing the number of opioid deaths by one-third in three years is “ambitious,” from doctor regulations to patient assistance, Illinois is still on its way to comprehensively combatting this national issue.


If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid problem, call the Illinois opioid hotline at 1-833-2FINDHELP.

Jennifer Maine