Chicago Department of Public Health announces summer strategy to combat opioid overdoses

May 15, 2024

City to double down on outreach strategies with recent increase in cases

CDPH Public Information Office:

CHICAGO - The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) outlined a summer strategy Wednesday to combat opioid overdoses, which have increased recently and are a main contributor to the racial life expectancy gap in Chicago. CDPH is doubling down on harm-reduction strategies designed to prevent overdose fatalities with a three-pronged strategy focusing on the most impacted communities: Naloxone distribution, overdose education and linkage to treatment.

“For several years, Chicago and other parts of the United States have seen an epidemic of opioid overdoses, many attributable to the synthetic drug fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin,” said CDPH Commissioner Olusimbo ‘Simbo’ Ige, MD, MPH. “Yet, we have tools to help prevent fatal overdoses. With greater awareness and understanding of the increase in opioid overdose deaths, as well as ready access to overdose reversal and treatment medications, everybody can play a role in preventing fatal overdoses.”

Dr. Ige appeared before the City Council Committee on Health and Human Relations today and said the city and Cook County have seen spikes in opioid overdoses in recent weeks. For example, during one recent 24-hour period there were 50 suspected opioid-related overdoses in the city. While every Chicago community area has had an opioid-related overdose EMS response (fatal or non-fatal) in the last three years, in 2023, 34% of such responses occurred in five West Side community areas: Austin, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park. It is typical to see a surge in cases during summer months.

CDPH’s response to the opioid overdose crisis includes a three-pronged strategy that is flooding resources to areas seeing overdose surges:

  1. Hyperlocal outreach to distribute harm-reduction supplies including overdose reversal medication Narcan, and test strips to check for the presence of the powerful synthetic form of opioids, fentanyl. Visit for a list of locations with free harm reduction tools.
  2. Community education on overdose prevention, including hyperlocal heat-mapping that reviews data and maps of opioid-related overdose EMS responses, and provider education.
  3. Connection to treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) including same-day access to medication treatment— the Medication Assisted Recovery (MAR) NOW program which is a partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (IDHS/SUPR) and Family Guidance Centers. MAR consists of FDA-approved medications that reduce the risk of drug overdose and death, reduces withdrawal symptoms, and supports care engagement over time.

In 2022, there were more opioid-related overdose deaths in Chicago (1,397) than homicides and traffic crash fatalities combined. Sixty-five percent of those fatalities were among Non-Latinx Black individuals and 78 percent were men.

Dr. Ige also told the Committee today that opioid-related overdose deaths are one of the primary drivers in the life-expectancy gap between Black and non-Black Chicagoans, along with deaths from chronic diseases (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, etc.) and gun-related homicide. That gap in life expectancy, which in 2017 was 8.8 years, widened to 10 years pre-pandemic and then, due largely to disparities in COVID-19 outcomes, to 12.7 years in 2021. Data from 2022 show it at 11.4 years.

“This is totally unacceptable, and it’s preventable,” said Dr. Ige. “CDPH and the City of Chicago are committed to narrowing this gap and we’re working every day with our healthcare and community partners to do so.”

Harm reduction strategies include:

  • Narcan, the FDA-approved nasal spray form of naloxone, is a crucial tool in the public health response to the opioid crisis. Narcan is available for free in all 81 Chicago Public Library locations, as well as many Aldermanic offices and other community locations. It does not require medical training to administer and has no harmful effects if given to someone who is not experiencing an overdose. Narcan distribution programs have been shown to decrease opioid-related overdose fatalities nationwide.
  • Last year, CDPH launched a public health vending machine pilot program to distribute harm reductions tools as well as hygiene kits in five locations throughout the city based on focus groups and surveys with people who use drugs, providers, and community members, as well as data analysis of overdose hotspots. Optional survey questions were provided to individuals who were accessing the vending machines. Of the 1,032 individuals who answered the question related to witnessing an overdose in their lifetime, 44% responded yes. Of the 1,019 people who responded to the question of whether they had experienced an overdose in their lifetime, 19% responded yes. These vending machines can be found at Harold Washington Library, the Uptown Library, the CTA Red Line station at 95th Street, Roseland Triage Center, and Garfield Community Service Center. Visit to learn more or request a PIN code to access no-cost supplies.
  • Through the MAR NOW program, launched in May 2022 with the Illinois Department of Human Services, callers to the Helpline for Opioids and Others Substances can be connected via telemedicine to OUD treatment medication, as well as free transportation, insurance enrollment, assistance with pharmacy access and connection to local providers for follow-up care. The Helpline is a free statewide resource available 24/7. Call 833-234-6343 or text “HELP” to 833234 to contact the Helpline.
  • CDPH convenes monthly meetings with over 50 partner organizations to review data and maps of opioid-related overdose EMS responses in 5 West Side communities and coordinate efforts.
  • CDPH and the Chicago Police Department are piloting the Narcotics Arrest Diversion program where eligible individuals who are arrested for drug possession can opt for a substance use assessment with on an-site clinician. So far, 80 percent of those diverted start treatment and over half remain engaged 30 days later.
  • Harm reduction training as well as supplies including Narcan, fentanyl test kits and xylazine test kits are available by request to individuals and organizations by emailing