Chicago's Mexican Heroin Epidemic

Chicago is going through a heroin epidemic fueled by Mexican drug cartels and pushed by local gangbangers that is leaving a wave of death and crime in its wake.

The Windy City already leads the country in heroin-related overdoses with a trend that started rising in 2004 and this trend doesn't seem to be abating any time soon.

One of the important reasons that heroin has become such a scourge is its street price. Because of its easy availability, a bag of heroin costs less than $10. This low price makes it available to practically anyone.

Then there is the relatively new way it can be ingested. Heroin is not just for needle users any more. Now heroin can be snorted and with its price and ease of use the drug has become a major party drug.

This mix of price, availability, ease of use, and the involvement of the Mexican cartels has created what the DEA has termed "a perfect storm."

"Here in Chicago, I refer to it as a perfect storm. We have literally documented 100,000 we know make their living putting narcotics, particularly heroin, on the street," said Chicago DEA agent Jack Riley.

Even the collar counties are being inundated by the drug. In west suburban DuPage County, for instance forty-six people died just last year alone. And Between 2007 and 2011, overdose deaths rose 50 percent in McHenry County. In Will and Lake Counties fatalities have doubled.

But Chicago is bearing the brunt and the Chicago DEA has had to address the situation. Chicago's drug strike force has grown to 70 federal agents and works closely with police and prosecutors.

Recently photographer Chuck Jines spent a year with Chicago's homeless chronicling how the drug is ravaging the people who most ignore.

Jines said that he was shocked by how widespread heroin was among Chicago's homeless.

"The worst part of this was watching people destroy themselves, sleeping in s***, sticking dirty needles into their abscess-speckled bodies," he said.

The photographer said that many of those he met in his year-long project are already dead. "A lot of them are dead. If the heroin doesn't get them, hepatitis or the streets themselves will get them. You don't see many old heroin addicts out here."

Meanwhile, the drug continues to wreck its havoc.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com


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