HERO HELPS forum community response to opioid epidemic

Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti teamed up with Will County officials and leaders in healthcare to discuss efforts in the opioid epidemic crisis in Illinois.

The annual HERO HELPS Southwest Coalition Community Summit, held in Romeoville recently was designed to promote collaboration, education and prevention.

This year’s program featured a number of speakers, including Larry Walsh, Sr., Will County Executive Office; Jim Glasgow, Will County State’s Attorney Office; Dr. Maria Bruni, assistant secretary of programs for the Illinois Department of Human Services; Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Department of Public Health; and Laura Porter, co-founder of ACE Interface.

Sanguinetti said it is imperative that everyone in the community act together to combat the epidemic.

“Our goal is a very aggressive goal, which is to reduce opioid-related deaths to the tune of one-third over the course of three years,” she said.

Sanguinetti is tasked with co-chairing the governor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. With that, she has attended field hearings and toured treatment centers and recovery homes.

“The statistics with this epidemic are startling, shocking, and hurtful,” Sanguinetti said. “[In 2016,] more than 63,000 Americans lost their lives due to drug overdoses.”

Glasgow shared that sentiment.

“[The United States is] five percent of the world population,” he said. “We consume 80 percent of the world’s opioids. That’s insane.”

Commonly, those with substance abuse disorders are less likely to seek help and have a tendency to drop out of treatment.

Several initiatives were highlighted during the summit to showcase the state’s efforts to combat the crisis, including a prescription monitoring program mandate, new legislation limiting prescription opioids to a seven-day supply, and the introduction of Better Care Illinois. The latter is a three-part initiative that aims to expand treatment and recovery support services; give added access to services, such as peer recovery supports, to promote long-term recovery; and create a pilot program to provide case management services to justice-involved individuals in need of substance abuse treatment.

Between Safe Haven programs and therapy dogs to the drug court, Will County has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the epidemic, as well.

Glasgow gave credit to law enforcement officials for their work in combating the crisis.

“Everyone’s attitude has changed as we become more of what this [epidemic] is,” he said. “It’s more like a disease than an addiction.”

Glasgow said Will County has done 17 prosecutions of drug-induced homicide in the last 5-6 years, which is significant.

“It’s very difficult to prove,” [cases of this type] he said. “The person who was the best witness to the delivery of the drugs is deceased, so it requires a lot more police work.”

Walsh said great strides have been made so far, but everyone must keep working together to find a solution to the issue.

It is not uncommon for patients who take medications long-term to deal with withdrawal symptoms upon weaning off prescription drugs under doctor’s orders.

When asked whether prescribers are making enough of an effort to identify short-term forms of medication-assisted therapies, Shah told The Times Weekly it is hard to say and that healthcare professionals on a case-by-case basis make those decisions.

“Providers, physicians, other treatment counselors take their jobs very seriously,” he said. “Ensuring that patients are in recovery and remain in recovery is a top priority for anyone who practices in that field.”

Those at the event were given the opportunity to receive training in how to use Narcan, a lifesaving antidote for people who overdose on opioids.

The summit also included a resource expo in which more than 40 community organizations were represented.

“As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts going on here,” Sanguinetti said. “It takes a lot of commitment and time away from what they normally do to make something like this happen, but it’s so incredibly important that we continue to get together at this level and continue to have these conversations.”

Anyone who has questions, comments or concerns about the opioid epidemic in Illinois is encouraged to contact the task force at 1-833-2FINDHELP. Operators are available to talk 24 hours per day and seven days per week.