Chicago Adults Most Concerned About Prescription Opioid Abuse in Youth

October 28, 2019

Racial and ethnic differences in specific drugs named as top concern

Chicagoans have identified drug use as one of the most common concerns they have about the health of children and adolescents. Now, based on the latest survey developed by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), over a third of Chicago adults who thought drug use among youth was a big problem were most concerned about prescription drugs, including narcotic painkillers such as opioids. Concerns about specific drugs differed by respondent race and ethnicity, however. Latinx adults were most worried about cocaine, black adults about marijuana and white adults about prescription drugs.

“Use of prescription drugs, and especially the opioid epidemic, has dominated national news and we see that it is top of mind for adults in Chicago who are worried about youth drug use,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Interim Chair of Pediatrics and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Hearing from different groups in the city about the drugs that they see as most problematic for youth in their communities will help us develop more targeted interventions.”

Other research supports the high level of concern about prescription drugs and opioids. Researchers examining mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that between 1999 and 2016, nearly 9,000 children and adolescents in the U.S. died from opioid poisonings, which included prescription drugs and heroin. This represents an increase of nearly 270 percent in the pediatric mortality rate during that time period. 

Overall, 61 percent of Chicago adults considered drug use a big problem facing youth. It was a top concern in both 2018 and 2019 surveys. Latinx adults were most likely to consider drug use a big problem (71 percent), followed by black adults (64 percent) and white adults (53 percent). Concerns about drug use did not vary by age, whether a respondent was a parent or not, or the ages of children in the household.

“The city has confronted the opioid epidemic head on, taking a series of steps to reduce addiction and deaths," says CDPH Acting Commissioner Allison Arwady, MD, MPH. "Exploring in greater depth our residents’ concerns about youth drug use will help us work collaboratively to address this issue."

The City hosts a website,, which offers resources for mental health needs, substance use disorders and violence prevention programs. CDPH also has, which combats misinformation by presenting facts and local resources to help residents obtain effective treatment and prevent overdose deaths.

In response to the substance use crisis in teens and young adults, Lurie Children’s recently opened an innovative & Prevention Program" href="/en/specialties-conditions/substance-use-prevention-program/">Substance Use and Prevention Program, supported by a generous gift from the Jordan Michael Filler Foundation. The comprehensive outpatient program, located at the Lurie Children’s teen-centric facility at 1440 N. Dayton, provides education, intervention, therapy, linkage to community resources, and medical and behavioral health services.

Survey results on concerns about drug use are based on the second wave of data collected through the Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. (2018-19), that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 2,982 adults, including 740 parents, December 2018 through May 2019. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas.

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis and his team at Lurie Children’s launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs are issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health. 

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 212,000 children from 49 states and 51 countries.