GENEVA – U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, acknowledged Friday that heroin addiction is in epic proportions and requires a coordinated effort to create a framework for effective prevention, treatment and continuing evaluation.
Speaking to a room of more than 60 officials from Kane, McHenry, DeKalb, DuPage and Lake counties Friday at a Community Leadership Forum on Heroin Prevention at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva, Hultgren said it was time for an action plan.
“Heroin is truly dangerous. It’s a very complex problem” Hultgren said. “Today is not a regular get-together. ... We need to identify new collaborations and share resources among each other [and] find out what is working.”
The keynote speaker was Capt. Jeffrey Coady, the regional administrator for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, and moderator was Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University.
“When we look at heroin use throughout our region, we need best practices, not only to inform people in this district, but throughout the region and the state,” Coady said.
Kane-Willis said research was showing a larger connection between prescription drug use and heroin use.
“Many of them – 80 percent – are transitioning from opiates,” that are prescribed, Kane-Willis said. “We need to promote a strategic and goal-oriented solution to the heroin-opioid crisis. Prevention is primary, treatment is secondary and overdose prevention is tertiary.”
Kane-Willis said more professions need to be represented in the framework of those working together, such as pharmacists and professional associations.
“Everyone has a role to play here,” she said.
Among the ideas each group came up with after brainstorming included more awareness, more treatment options and more beds available for treatment.
“Drug companies should provide support for this because they are providing the drugs to the patients,” said Barb Jeffers, the Kane County Health Department executive director. “They should have a role in prevention.”
Allison Johnsen, a behavioral health specialist with Cadence Health, said money is a barrier to treatment.
“Insurance companies are running how we provide care,” Johnsen said, clarifying that she was speaking as herself and not as a representative of Cadence. “And when you have good insurance, what you get for treatment is not enough to help effectively, according to models for recovery.”
Jeff Hunt, interim executive director of the Robert Crown Center, said people should be looking at social media and leveraging it to get information out there to youth, changing the language from “addiction” to “disease” to reduce the stigma.
Overdose treatment is another critical component, Hunt said, adding that every police and fire responder should have Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin said funding for treatment is a big barrier.
“When you’re talking about heroin, it’s the most difficult drug there is and it takes years and years for recovery,” Berlin said. “Most treatment facilities are 21 or 30 days, and then they kick you out the door. That’s nowhere even close to treating a heroin addiction.”
Addicts who go to prison or jail have said it was their first step to getting clean, Berlin said.
“Obviously, there is a tremendous cost to that, and as prosecutors, we don’t want to be putting drug addicts in jail,” Berlin said.
Hultgren said his office would keep in touch with the participants to keep building on what they started in the forum.
Chris Hadley of Geneva, a retired nurse, said she came to the forum as the mother of a son who died of a heroin overdose in 2010.
“It’s taken me three years to be able to get to a point where I feel I can give back in whatever capacity they might need,” Hadley said. “To talk to kids or other parents. ... In whatever way I can, I would like to help.”
Cathy Villwock of Geneva said she came to the forum as the mother of a recovering heroin-addicted son.
“They’re using the ‘h-word’ so I hope this is the start of many more of these meetings to come,” she said. “Looking around the room, I am very impressed with the representation.”
One aspect that was not discussed was how the Affordable Care Act was now providing coverage for addiction – previously an uninsurable disease – causing parents to use up their savings and retirement money to pay for treatment.
“I don’t think many people realize that component of the Affordable Care Act for folks that struggle with the disease of addiction is going to save an awful lot of lives,” Villwock said. “It’s going to provide them with much-needed resources and help.”