Chicago Department of Public Health reports a decrease in opioid-related deaths in the city in the first half of 2021

August 19, 2021

CHICAGO - The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) reported today a provisional estimate of 467 opioid-related overdose deaths in Chicago during the first half of 2021, an 18% decrease from 2020. An analysis of Cook County Medical Examiner and Chicago Fire Department data by CDPH’s Behavioral Health Bureau and Office of Epidemiology also found there were 5,517 opioid-related EMS responses during the first half of 2021, a 24% decrease from the same time in 2020. The 2021 mid-year report can be found here.

“We saw a troubling rise in opioid-related overdoses and deaths in 2020 during the pandemic, so it’s nice to see this trending downward,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “But there are still too many opioid-related overdoses happening, and our work continues with our many community and healthcare partners to combat this epidemic.”   

The Healthy Chicago 2025 report identifies opioid-related overdose deaths as among the top drivers of the 8.8-year life expectancy gap between Black and white Chicagoans. Fentanyl, highly potent and deadly in small concentrations, continues to be the predominant opioid type for opioid overdose deaths. In January – June 2021, overdose death rates involving fentanyl as the only opioid increased by 6%.  

 “This complex landscape of the opioid overdose epidemic poses challenges for healthcare systems, which must reduce barriers to evidence-based care and adopt a 'no wrong door approach' for treating those with opioid used disorder and those with other substance use disorders,” said CDPH Medical Director of Behavioral Health, Dr. Wilnise Jasmin.

Overdoses continue to be concentrated on the West Side of Chicago. Austin had the highest number of overdose EMS responses in the city during this period, followed by West Garfield Park and Humboldt Park. Although in Chicago overall there was a decrease in opioid-related overdose EMS response, there were increases on the South Side, as well, and opioid-related overdoses have impacted all 77 community areas.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, CDPH has been proactively providing consultations to behavioral health and substance use recovery service providers on infection control practices that would allow them to continue providing their recovery services in a way that mitigates the risk of spreading COVID-19. In addition, CDPH has expanded overdose prevention and harm reduction services in communities of highest need, including naloxone distribution (naloxone is medication given to reverse an opioid overdose), syringe services, and linkage to medications used to treat opioid use disorder. In partnership with the Chicago Police Department and Thresholds, CDPH has also piloted a novel mobile substance use treatment team, which connects eligible persons arrested for possession of cocaine or heroin to substance use and mental health treatment in the community as an alternative to booking or criminal charges.

For more information about opioids in Chicago visit The 2019 Annual Opioid report can be found here.