Above, officials gather in Waukegan Monday for a health department press conference on opioid treatment. – LCHD photo
by Long Hwa-shu
Lake County has launched a concerted effort to tackle the growing opioid addiction crisis that has reached epidemic proportions in the area and across the country.
Underpinning the renewed effort was an announcement by the Lake County Health Department to double its Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) capacity to 200 patients which was made possible under a $325,000-grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The expansion of the MAT program is a critical next step to address the opioid overdose epidemic, said T. E. Sashko, Lake County Board of Health president, at a joint press conference Monday called by the department about the expanded program.
“When people are saved from overdosing, it is likely that they will continue their addiction if they don’t receive treatment.” – Aaron Lawlor, Lake County board chairman
According to Sashko, the number of people in the county in need of substance abuse treatment has steadily increased. There were 30 deaths in 1998 that were due to substance abuse.
“By 2010, that number had more than tripled to 92,” he alarmed.
“Opioid-related deaths in 2008 were 47 and increased in 2015 to 58. Heroin-related deaths in 2008 were 30 and increased to 42 in 2015,” pointed out Sashko.
For decades the LCHD has been the primary provider of substance abuse services in the county. With the growing use of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of overdose, increasingly police officers across the county carry the product in their squad cars to provide on-the-spot emergency rescue effort to save lives. This was made possible after the health department secured $1.4 million from the product’s maker for auto-injectable naloxone.
The first life saved with the donation occurred on Christmas Day 2014. Since then more than 90 lives have been saved.
The expansion of MAT enables the health department to provide additional medical treatment to addicts because they tend to continue their addiction.
With the grant, Sashko said, “We are now able to double the capacity of that program over the next two years, increasing access to treatment services for those struggling with the disease.”
State’s Atty. Michael Nerheim said his office is an integral member of the countywide effort to address the crisis through the health department, the Lake County Opioid Initiative and Linking Efforts Against Drugs which launched Text-A-Tip to enable youth to anonymously text counselors for help.
Lauding the expansion of medication treatment which enable addicts to become productive citizens, Nerheim said, the effort “would not be possible without key partnerships formed over the years between local agencies and organizations.;”
He mentioned “A Way Out,” a Lake County Law Enforcement Assisted diversion pilot program which ensures no criminal charges will be sought for those who may be in possession of narcotics and paraphernalia as long as they agree to seek professional help.
Undersheriff Ray Rose said his office is working with various police departments and agencies like NICASA to increase the number of police officers trained in crisis intervention.
Such training, he said, enables them “to understand how to de-escalate a situation with those individuals suffering from addiction or mental illness” and to provide them access to needed treatment.
Rose said county jail and prisons have become frequent treatment locales for those with serious mental illness as community mental health services have decreased in recent years. This, he added, has placed “an increased burden on prisons and jails which have received little to no additional resources.”
Lake County Board chairman Aaron Lawlor lauded the joint effort to address the growing national crisis which, he said, “underscores our strategic goal to build healthy and resilient communities,” and to keep Lake County “a safe place to live and work.”
Pointing out the expansion of medication treatment makes it possible for more addicts to receive needed treatment, he said, “When people are saved from overdosing, it is likely that they will continue their addiction if they don’t receive treatment.”
Lawlor stressed that “tax dollars were not used to expand the health department’s services.”
“We have successfully leveraged grant funding to respond to community needs,” he said.