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Deaths From Overdose And Homicide Rising In Champaign County — And Illinois

In this Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 photo, Terri Bartlett looks down at a framed picture of her deceased son Michael at her home in McHenry, Ill. Michael died from an overdose two years earlier at age 21.

CHAMPAIGN — Following state and national trends, Champaign County is seeing an uptick in drug overdose deaths and homicides.

Over the past five years, the number of people who’ve died from a drug overdose — in both Champaign County and the state of Illinois — has roughly doubled. 

Last year, 52 Champaign County residents died from a drug overdose — up from 26 deaths in 2016. 

The number of homicide deaths in Champaign County has been fluctuating, but the county recently saw a five-fold increase in homicides — from three in 2019 to 15 in 2020.

Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde presented the data at last week’s County Board of Health Meeting.

Regarding drug overdose deaths, Pryde says, “it’s not just heroin. We are seeing everything — a lot of poly-substance [use].”

She said 2020 was also a bad year for homicides — and expects 2021 will be even worse. Almost all of the homicide deaths are the result of gun violence.

“That’s going to definitely be something that our community has got to get together and address,” Pryde said.

Local efforts to reduce gun violence — like the C-U Fresh Start program, which provides support to help people with a history of gun-related crimes turn their lives around — are making a difference, she added. But more needs to be done.

Pryde said any strategy to reduce gun violence needs to take into account underlying issues, such as systemic racism and the lack of economic opportunity in communities of color. 

Pryde also discussed suicide deaths — noting Champaign County has not seen a spike in suicides during the pandemic. 

Preliminary state and national data show a slight decrease in suicides overall in 2020. But the New York Times reports some communities saw a rise in suicides among nonwhite residents compared with previous years.

An examination of county-level death data based on demographics should be complete by mid-July, said C-U Public Health Deputy Administrator Awais Vaid in an email.

Christine Herman is a reporter at Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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