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Illinois Issues: Focus On Heroin Leaves Little Attention On Meth

5.19.16– Andrew Dewey, WUIS

Illinois lawmakers are trying to win the battle on the streets of two very potent, addictive and cheap drugs. In some Illinois communities the drug is methamphetamine; in some the drug is heroin. In many it’s both.

Heroin use has been dubbed a crisis in the state by Illinois lawmakers — and rightly so, according to the data. Nationwide, heroin overdose deaths doubled from 2010 to 2012. Heroin caused 633 overdose deaths in Illinois in 2015.

But there was a time, in the mid 2000s, when meth use was labeled as an epidemic.  Newsweek dubbed meth “America’s most dangerous drug” in 2005. That same year, Illinois had its highest recorded number of meth lab busts, more than 900. But since that time, concerns over heroin and opioid use have eclipsed meth in the headlines and in the public policy realm. Legislators and experts point to several possible reasons for this shift, including the deadliness of heroin, differences in the populations using each drug and the — possibly inaccurate — perception that the state’s meth problem has been tamped down by laws limiting access to a key ingredient used to make it.

“While, by and large, nationally the opioid/heroin crisis has consumed the public at this point, I have heard many folks talk about the fact that methamphetamine hasn’t gone away,” says Sara Moscato Howe, chief executive officer of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association.

Meth is unique from other drugs because it cannot be grown; it has to be chemically synthesized. It can be synthesized in many ways, but all of these methods require the use of pseudoephedrine, a chemical found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. Illinois, like many other states that have faced widespread meth use, has long had laws in place to try and combat meth production by limiting access to pseudoephedrine.


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