Haymarket Center

Illinois vs. the Opioid Epidemic

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The epidemic of opioid overdose deaths has been geographically lopsided. West Virginia has the highest rate, followed by New Hampshire, Ohio and Kentucky. Illinois’ rate is one-third of West Virginia’s, but that’s only modest comfort. Last year, 1,889 people died from opioid overdoses in Illinois.

But people keep using heroin and prescription opioids despite the dangers. “I crashed three vehicles in one week,” one fentanyl user told the Tribune’s John Keilman. “I went to jail. But I liked it. I loved it — the rush, the euphoria, everything that came along with it.” Because fentanyl is much more potent than heroin, it carries a higher risk of accidental death.

This is a national problem that has to be addressed one user at a time, at every level of government. Fortunately, it’s not being overlooked in Illinois. In recent days, a report put together by a group of state agencies mapped out a comprehensive strategy to eliminate one-third of opioid overdose deaths by 2020. And Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed a task force to look for ways to implement the strategy.


The action plan sets out ideas that it separates into three categories: prevention, treatment and recovery, and response. To prevent deaths, it recommends getting more doctors and pharmacies to use the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program, which can let them know when patients are trying to get multiple prescriptions. More education and training of providers about the hazards of overuse would save lives.

But while many police officers have access to naloxone, the report notes, not all carry it or know how to use it. Making it easier to get this lifesaving remedy into the hands of ordinary people and community organizations would provide another line of defense.

There is no silver bullet here. Prescription opioids are an essential, legitimate tool in physician treatment of severe pain, which means some will always remain available for illegal trafficking. Synthetic forms can be produced in illegal labs. Some people will always be prone to drug abuse.

But expanding education, treatment and overdose remedies would prevent many Illinoisans from becoming addicted — and keep others from dying from using opioids. More ambitious efforts will take time, attention and money. But then, the human damage and death caused by the opioid epidemic are exacting an even higher price.

 

Chicago Tribune, Editorial Board

 

 


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