Chicago's Heroin Problem Is Getting Worse as State Funding Dries Up

By May Wilkerson 08/12/15

Despite the dire situation, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wants even more cuts to drug treatment programs.

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The Chicago area is grappling with the country’s worst heroin problem, while the state has slashed funding for drug treatment, according to a new report from Roosevelt University.

Per capita treatment admissions for heroin are the third lowest in the country after Texas and Tennessee, the report said, which is set to be released today. The Chicago area in particular has seen more heroin-related ER visits than any other metro area. But spending on treatment for heroin and other drug addiction has been cut by nearly 30% since 2007, and Gov. Bruce Rauner is calling for even more cuts.

According to the report’s lead researcher, Roosevelt teacher Kathie Kane-Willis, there is a direct correlation between the diminishing programs and the rise in overdoses. "It's making the situation worse,” she said, “because if people can't get into treatment, they continue to use.”

In recent years, lawmakers have proposed numerous measures aimed at tackling Illinois’ rising heroin crisis, including introducing the Heroin Crisis Act. Among other things, the act would allow the state's Medicaid program to cover methadone, a medication used to help addicts wean off heroin and to blunt cravings.

But despite the bill being approved by both chambers, Governor Rauner has yet to sign it. At $15 million, the Illinois Department of Human Services has said it’s simply too expensive.

Eric Foster, of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, said addiction treatment services have long struggled to receive public funding, and the problem is growing worse.

"In budget crisis times, the funding that's most at risk is the funding that's not mandated," he said. "There are a lot of things the state is obligated to pay for; addiction treatment is at most risk because there's not that mandate."

State-funded treatment covers all kinds of addictions, but admissions for heroin in particular have soared since 2007, said the report. In the Chicago area, about 35% of admissions are related to heroin, more than twice the national average of 16%.

"It's really kind of penny-wise and pound-foolish not to put the money in, because you're paying for it somewhere else," said Kane-Willis. "I know we're in a fiscal crisis, but all this playing chicken over the budget is making the heroin problem worse."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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