Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah co-chaired a public hearing by the Governor’s Opioid Prevention and Intervention Task Force Wednesday in Chicago. The task force is visiting communities across the state in search of information and partners to further the state’s Opioid Action Plan in response to the state’s escalating opioid overdose epidemic. Will County’s Director of Substance Use Initiatives Dr. Kathleen Burke was invited to be part of a panel to discuss the county’s response efforts.
“The opioid epidemic knows no neighborhood, no color, and no class,” Sanguinetti said. “We are traveling the state to collect research and hear stories of those impacted by this growing opioid overdose epidemic so we can take action and save lives.”
“I applaud the Lieutenant Governor for leading these important hearings to learn how this epidemic is affecting all parts of our state and what we are doing locally to fight opioid abuse,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. “We have been addressing this issue for some time and it is nice to be recognized for our efforts by the governor’s office. We are fortunate to have Dr. Burke leading our efforts in Will County.”
The task force members heard testimony from experts in four key groups involved in this issue: personal stories, law enforcement, health care and behavioral health providers, and local response. The goal of the Opioid Action Plan is to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths by one-third in three years. Burke shared information about the county’s efforts including expanded Narcan training and Safe Passage participants.
“The message from many of these groups was the lack of access to treatment,” Burke said. “These testimonies were powerful and clearly identified the gaps in service dealing with the opioid epidemic in our state. We have Narcan which is keeping people from dying from overdose and we have the Safe Passage program with our police departments to directly connect people to treatment, but we have to increase our capacity to save lives. Addiction is a medical disease that requires medical treatment and we do not have enough beds to offer people detox services and treatment.”
Burke cited studies which have shown in-patient treatment is the most effective manner to treat opioid addiction. She described how opioids “rewire” a person’s brain which intensifies the cravings and makes treatment difficult.
“Opioids hijack the pleasure-seeking portion of the brain,” she said. “So treating a person’s addiction is a medical process, not just making changes in one’s behavior. People need access to medically-assisted treatment to manage their cravings and learn to live a healthy life in recovery.”
Some of the other panelists included John Roberts, co-founder of the HERO group and a partner in Will County efforts, Chief of Mundelein Police Eric Guenther, and Dr. Michael Nelson, emergency medicine and addiction physician at Cook County Health and Hospitals System. Each gave unique presentations about their efforts but the underlying message was the need for increased access to treatment.
Shah added, “We are learning what resources are available in different communities. It will take all of us, in all capacities to end this crisis.”
“We are all working to keep people suffering from an addiction from dying from an overdose, access treatment, and offer community support services for long term recovery,” said Burke. “It was encouraging to hear from the many experts across various fields. My hope is we can collaborate and use our specific resources to find ways to end overdose deaths and expand addiction treatment.”
Captions: – Dr. Kathleen Burke, Will County Director of Substance Use Initiatives, (left) participated on a panel about the local response to the opioid overdose epidemic. She was joined by Dr. Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, medical director for behavioral health with the Chicago Public Health Department, Brian Rowland, the CEO of Safe Haven, and Dr. Richard Jorgensen, DuPage County Coroner. (Photo courtesy of the Will County Executive Office)