Officials Compare Heroin Epidemic To Ebola Outbreak

CHICAGO (CBS) — Local officials would like people to start being as concerned about the heroin epidemic as they were when the Ebola virus erupted as a worldwide health concern.

Experts from four counties will come together later this week to share strategies for combatting the heroin and opioid overdose epidemic in the Chicago area.

According to Paul Lauridsen, executive director of the Stepping Stones substance abuse treatment center in Joliet, there were about 90,000 deaths due to heroin and prescription opioid overdoses in the United States the past two years. That’s more than eight times as many deaths as were caused by the Ebola virus over four years, between 2013 and 2016.

“Our ears all perked up about when everybody was talking about the Ebola outbreak. From 2013 to 2016 there were a total of 11,000 deaths,” Lauridsen said.

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow said the death comparison is simply “mind-boggling”.

Lauridsen added that, in the four counties of Cook, Lake, DuPage and Will, there were at least 991 opioid overdose deaths last year. He said that figure is expected to dramatically increase by the time final numbers are released.

Lauridsen and Glasgow encouraged the public to join health and law enforcement experts at Will County’s annual heroin summit on Friday at the Edward Hospital Athletic and Event Center in Romeoville. The event is free. Pre-registration is not required, but those who plan to attend are encouraged to check out the web site: HeroHelpsSWC.org.

At the summit, experts will share their strategies for combatting the heroin and prescription opioid overdose epidemic. There will also be an expo with more than 30 organizations providing information on their services.

A unique trailer also will be on-display of a mock teenager’s bedroom. It was designed to show parents and others the dozens of places teenagers could hide drugs and alcohol in their rooms. Glasgow encouraged parents to search their children’s rooms for drugs as a way to make sure the young people don’t wind up dead of an overdose. The trailer display is called, “Hidden in Plain Sight.”

Watch & Listen LIVE