DeKALB – Since 2008, opioid overdoses have killed about 11,000 Illinoisans, Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti said.
Sanguinetti has been traveling across the state as a way to raise awareness about the growing crisis. On Tuesday, she appeared in DeKalb to meet with community stakeholders and gather input about strategies to fight overdose deaths and effectively treat opioid and other substance abuse.
“I call [opioid abuse] an equal opportunity aggressor,” Sanguinetti said. “It knows no neighborhood, color or class.”
After meeting with law enforcement, public health officials and other stakeholders, Sanguinetti said some of the collaborative steps DeKalb County is taking should be the envy of other communities.
David Berault, chief of the civil division for the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office, said he finds it insane how easy it is for people to get their hands on opioid medication when he, as a diabetic, has trouble getting access to insulin in certain parts of the country.
He referenced one case of a doctor’s assistant who wrote out 5,000 opioid medication prescriptions.
Although steps have been taken in diversion programs and mental health court, Berault said legal action has also been taken by the county.
The county, in partnership with St. Charles-based Meyers and Flowers law firm, has joined a number of counties filing lawsuits against manufacturers of opiates.
DeKalb police Cmdr. Jason Leverton said he certainly has seen a spike in heroin and fentanyl use in the past few years, so it is fortunate the police have an aggressive Narcan plan that not only allows the emergency overdose treatment to be included in first aid kits, but allows officers to carry the medication on duty.
He said that the department’s Heroin Opioid Prevention and Education program, which streamlines treatment services for opioid users with financial or other challenges, already has been used by a handful of people.
Last year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Executive Order 17-05, establishing the Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, which would be chaired by Sanguinetti and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Sanguinetti said future goals of the task force will be to work with state and federal law enforcement to expand alternatives to imprisonment for opioid users and to widen the use of Safe Passage Initiatives, which offer appropriate treatment for users who enter a police station or sheriff’s office asking for help with their addiction.
For help with opioid or other substance abuse, call 833-234-6343.