CAMPTON HILLS – U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, brought roughly 50 local leaders together in a two-part meeting to try to address the heroin and opioid epidemic that continues to affect northern Illinois and the nation, officials stated in a news release.
Hultgren hosted first responders, health care leaders and providers, state and local officials, health insurers and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry in two sessions Aug. 22 at the Campton Township Community Center in Campton Hills, officials stated in the news release.
In June, the National Institute on Drug Abuse declared opioid abuse a state of crisis. According to its website, www.drugabuse.gov, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids every day.
The meetings covered the state of the opioid epidemic in Illinois, successful prevention, treatment programs and federal policy recommendations, officials stated in the news release.
Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, who participated, said it was a good discussion of how to address the problem.
“The issue here is this is not simply a law enforcement issue,” McMahon said. “And if we look at it as a law enforcement issue, it’s not going to have a good outcome.”
Instead, if officials look at opioid addiction as a public health and medical issue and bring in resources available from the court system to support that, the blend of approaches are more likely to result in a positive outcome, McMahon said.
“What I have seen work in the court system is that blend,” McMahon said. “For the best long-term outcome to take effect and have a lasting impact, [it] has to have a heavy treatment component to it.”
McMahon said for whatever reason, the justice system does not recognize that many of the substance abuse issues are driven by some type of mental health issue or stress disorder.
One component of dealing with it would be to have crisis intervention training for law enforcement, McMahon said.
“So when they respond to a situation, they are trained and equipped to recognize mental health and substance abuse issues as well,” McMahon said. “In other parts of the country, there are crisis intervention units that give police officers an alternative to arrest and incarceration.”
There are no such crisis units available in Kane County. If there were, McMahon said it would allow officers to respond to a situation then transport that individual to a crisis unit where medical and behavioral professionals would take charge.
Police would then be allowed to return to their patrols, it would save money and manpower, and it would reduce emergency room wait times, McMahon said.
“If you can treat them for behavioral mental health issues and substance abuse issues, it tends to be a better outcome,” McMahon said. “Or in the alternative, I become involved. In the court system, we do some things very, very well. But we are not designed to treat medical conditions.”
Doing things differently would not just have a better use for tax dollars, McMahon said.
“It’s better outcomes for the individuals, and it’s a better long-term outcome for the community because the treatment has a longer lasting impact,” McMahon said. “And then we don’t see the person back in the system with a new trial for theft or forgery because they have to steal something to sell to make a quick dollar for their drug of choice.”
The meetings are part of Hultgren’s continued fight against heroin and opioids – which he began in March 2014 – with leadership forums, as well as his support of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016.
Hultgren told a personal story at the leadership meeting about growing up in a funeral home in Wheaton, where a close family friend lost his son because of a heroin overdose, according to the news release.
“His father told us he wished his son could have stayed in prison longer. Maybe then this wouldn’t have happened,” Hultgren stated in the release. “To me, it just felt so sad that the best hope was to be in prison. I know it isn’t, and we have to do something.”
Calling the opioid epidemic a “plague,” Hultgren stated all the tasks – from educating the public to stemming the flow of heroin and abused opioids – are difficult.
“But working together and coordinating our efforts is the linchpin to ensuring we are having real success against this plague,” Hultgren stated in the release. “Above all, our goal is still saving lives, and our community leaders are on the front lines every day in this fight.”
More information is available online at www.hultgren.house.gov/heroin.
Heroin and opioid overdose deaths in Kane County
• 2015 – 35
• 2016 – 55
• 2017 – 26*
*as of Aug. 24
Source: Kane County Coroner’s Office