Illinois Announces Opioid Taskforce, Plans To Reduce Overdose Deaths

By Kelly Burch 09/13/17

The task force aims to cut overdose deaths by one-third over the next three years. 

Governor Rauner announcing the task force
Governor Rauner announcing the task force Photo via YouTube

In Illinois, the number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled since 2013—the drugs are expected to claim 1,900 lives this year. In response, the state has formed an opioid task force with the goal of cutting overdose deaths by one-third in the next three years. 

“The opioid crisis in Illinois affects people from all walks of life─small towns and big cities, the wealthy and the poor, young and old. Without treatment, people suffering from opioid use disorder risk dropping out of school, losing their job, becoming homeless, losing custody of their children, or getting arrested,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said in a press release. “This is not a problem that government, health care, police, schools, communities or others can solve on their own. We must all work together.”

According to a report on the state’s response to the opioid epidemic, Illinois policymakers plan to fight opioid abuse by boosting prevention efforts, increasing access to effective treatment and streamlining the response to drug users, with policies like making Narcan more easily available. 

One of the biggest barriers to effective treatment in Illinois is the lack of access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The Chicago Tribune noted that half of counties in Illinois lack access to MAT. Partially because of that, 248,000 residents in need of treatment did not receive any last year. 

“There are large areas of Illinois within which residents have little or no access to any form of MAT for [opioid use disorder],” the report said

Cook County, which is home to Chicago, has the most access to medication-assisted treatment, but southern Illinois has a higher overdose rate and much lower access to treatment. 

“As a family doctor at Lawndale Christian Health Center on the west side of Chicago, I am privileged and blessed to be on a team that tries to respond to the needs of our community. One of the greatest needs we see right now is preventing deaths from opioid overdose,” Dr. Thomas D. Huggett said in the governor's press release. “Medication-assisted treatment, behavioral health counseling, and social support are vitally needed as we walk beside our patients who want to leave opioid use disorder and heroin behind.”

In addition to pushing for more equal distribution of medication-assisted treatment, the report calls for better access to treatment for inmates, and referrals to medication-assisted treatment for people leaving jail. 

Of course, even with the best programs users still have to be willing to get help, something that one person who spoke with The Chicago Tribune was not yet ready to do. 

“I crashed three vehicles in one week,” the fentanyl user said. “I went to jail. But I liked it. I loved it—the rush, the euphoria, everything that came along with it.”  

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.