Illinois Lieutenant Governor hopes to break cycle of opioid addiction

The opioid crisis is a topic front and center both nationally and on the local level.

In the last ten years, the opioid epidemic killed nearly 11,000 people in Illinois, according to public health reports.

It's been declared a national crisis and Illinois’ task force has been working to get ahead of it. They are still testing what programs work and what the next steps could be.

“This threat is incredibly real here in Illinois," said Illinois Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti.

Students at the University of Illinois School of Social Work said fighting the disease is a work in progress and it starts with advocacy.

Sanguinetti joined the conversation. She said the epidemic isn't subjective. It affects everyone and it's important to remember it's a disease and people need treatment.

“It knows no neighborhood. It knows no color. It knows no class. It is an equal opportunity aggressor," Sanguinetti said.

Last September, Illinois created an opioid task force and action plan. Since then the group has expanded the availability of Naloxone to the public. They also created a 24/7 helpline and physicians are now required to monitor prescriptions to prevent "doctor shopping."

“These are difficult times for our social safety net and for really addressing this type of problem, you have to keep up the drum beat," said Kathy Wehrmann, President of the National Association of Social Workers.

To break the cycle of addiction, the state is working to allow treatment centers to serve more Medicaid patients. They are also increasing the number of physicians providing medication-assisted treatments and working with police on a program to help those addicted instead of putting them in handcuffs.

2,000 Illinois residents died from an opioid overdose in 2016, according to the Department of Public Health. They predict that number will increase to 2,700 by 2020. The state's task force hopes to reduce that amount by 30 percent.

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