Last year, there were 581 opioid overdose deaths in the City of Chicago, representing a 93-percent increase from the 301 such deaths reported in 2013, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Of course, the spike in opioid abuse is a national problem, which in October led to President Donald Trump declaring it a national public health emergency. But ground zero for the opioid epidemic is the Rust Belt, a region that sees Chicago as a beacon of opportunity. And so just as budding professionals from across the Midwest migrate to the region’s capital city, so too do a growing number of opioid abusers.
According to photojournalist Lloyd DeGrane, who’s been documenting homelessness and its many causes in Chicago for two and a half years now, these “opioid migrants” find easy money panhandling in the Loop, easy access in the open-air drug markets of the city’s West Side, shelter within the viaducts of Lower Wacker Drive and areas close to Downtown Chicago, and a police department that is more tolerant of their presence than law enforcement in the small towns and suburbs from whence they came.
DeGrane’s photographs have been produced with support from the Social Justice News Nexus at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The text accompanying the following photographs features DeGrane in his own words. —Jordan Heller