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The Drug Trade in Chicago

January 3rd, 2014 at 10:22 am

Many people consider the Chicago area notorious for drugs, and more specifically the abuse of heroin. In fact, citizens in the Chicago area suffer the highest number of heroin overdoses across the country. An interesting article recently published by the Chicago Reader examined the state of Chicago’s “thriving heroin business” and the history of the issue over the last 100 years.

 drug trafficking in Chicago IMAGEOver the last century, Chicago’s heroin business has been able to change and thrive despite the measures aimed at curbing the behavior, including legal restrictions, increased law enforcement, and societal changes. Illegal drug markets began developing in the early twentieth century in marked areas of Chicago. Police were forced to strike a balance between cracking down on users and confining the activity to the known areas with known users and known criminal histories.

When Congress began passing restrictions on the trade of opiates in the 1920s, criminal organizations began dominating the business by smuggling the drugs, sometimes internationally. In the next 40 years, there was a shift in population in the west side of Chicago, with the area becoming predominantly African-American by 1965. Overall, the area suffered losses in jobs as a result of hundreds of companies closing. With the economy declining, the market for illegal drugs flourished.

Eventually, the organized crime families stepped away from the drug trade in favor of having gangs handle the business for them.  Instead of selling drugs on the street as was done in the past, buyers would call dealers to arrange a purchase, decide on a meet location, exchange a code and make the exchange through an opening in the door. Perhaps not surprisingly, gang and drug-related violence increased dramatically in the early 1970s, and in 1974, Chicago experienced the city’s highest number of annual murders.

The 1980s and 1990s brought another change in the drug business. Colombian and Mexican cartels took over drug trafficking into Chicago. Increased competition in Chicago forced the sale of drugs outdoors, usually in public housing complexes or other distressed neighborhoods. Incidents of violence spiked again, and it seemed drug sales were a commonplace occurrence happening everywhere.

By the early 2000s, many of the gang leaders heavily involved in the drug trade were incarcerated and gang structure was weakened. The rates of violence began to decline overall. The drug business is no longer strongly tied to a specific group, but now often involves different gangs participating in the business together.

People not only in Chicago, but across the state of Illinois and across the country, continue to struggle with and suffer from the use and abuse of drugs. As criminal defense attorneys, we have experience in defending clients who have been charged with numerous drug-related crimes. We are prepared to discuss your case with you and advise you of your rights. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in the Chicago area, contact us today for a consultation.

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