Cook County opioid deaths likely topped 2,100 last year

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

Opioid overdose deaths in Cook County likely surpassed the number from 2020 by a wide margin, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office announced Tuesday.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office recorded 1,840 opioid-related deaths in 2020. As of Tuesday, 1,602 opioid-related deaths had been confirmed for 2021, with 717 cases still under review. Based on past rates for pending cases, it is estimated that the final count for 2021 will surpass 2,100 cases, officials said.

“Opioid addiction and deaths have permeated all segments of our society,” Preckwinkle said in a written statement. “And just as this problem is extremely complex and multifaceted, so must be our approach to solving it.”

Cook County is operating several programs that address the public health challenge from different angles, officials said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently awarded Cook County Health a five-year, $2.6 million grant to fund treatment programs.

Project REACCH-OUT: Rapid Engagement and Access at Cook County Health for Opioid Use Treatment is funding the treatment and recovery of individuals diagnosed with opioid use disorder and substance use disorder by establishing a rapid-access, low-barrier and high-capacity bridge clinic in the Illinois Medical District.

This clinic is designed to be a safety net for people who are between care settings or those without a regular health care provider. In-person assessments, telehealth visits, and outreach and community events will be used to engage these patients, officials said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of stress and isolation for many people, exacerbating mental health challenges and substance use disorders,” Cook County Health CEO Israel Rocha Jr. said in a statement. “We are committed to expanding access to substance use treatment, providing the care people need where and when they need it.”