President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid epidemic a “national public health emergency” in a Thursday (Oct. 26, 2017) announcement at the White House.
According to the White House news release, the action allows for expanded access to telemedicine services, helps overcome bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies in the hiring process and shifts resources within HIV/AIDS programs to help people eligible for those programs receive substance abuse treatment.
Perhaps more importantly, it signals a “mobilizing” of multiple federal agencies “to address drug addiction and opioid abuse,” the news release said.
What does that mean for Kane County, IL?
Not a whole lot right this minute, but the proclamation could hold promise in the future, Kane County Health Department Executive Director Barb Jeffers said.
Initially, at least, there don’t appear to be any federal dollars for local anti-opioid efforts directly associated with the announcement, Jeffers said. As of Thursday, the Public Health Emergency Fund at Health and Human Services currently stood at $57,000, according to ABC News and multiple media sources.
That said, the Thursday announcement could indicate that funding for anti-opioid programs could trickle down to the local level, and programs could be better coordinated in the future, Jeffers said.
“I’m encouraged that the White House has brought this epidemic into national focus as a public health crisis,” she said Friday. “With the upward trend of deaths from opioids on the raise, it’s important for us to recognize that we must work toward prevention, treatment, education and eliminating the stigma associate with addiction if we are going to stop the devastation this illness causes.”
The Kane County Health Department has been a leader both in recognizing the opioid epidemic and in providing services that have saved lives.
More than 1,000 officers and other first responders in Kane County have been trained by Kane County Health Department since its Narcan Program was introduced in 2014. Narcan, or Naloxone, is an opiate receptor blocker used primarily in the pre-hospital setting by paramedics or law enforcement officers in life-threatening overdose situations.
Since 2014, persons trained through the Kane County Health Department have saved 80 lives with Narcan.
Jeffers said a recent grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services will allow the Health Department to add an educational component to the Narcan program.
Despite those efforts, the health risks continue to be high in Kane County, Jeffers said. The county saw 35 opioid-related deaths in 2014 and 36 in 2015. That number rose steeply to 60 in 2016, Jeffers said.
Prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone serve a critical role in modern medicine, but statistics from the Centers for Disease Control suggest a possible over-prescription of the drugs, leading to widespread use of synthetic and illegal variations like heroin and fentanyl.
Here in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner in early September signed Executive Order 17-05, creating the governor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. Co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti and Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, the task force is looking at strategies to prevent expansion of the opioid crisis, treat and promote the recovery of individuals with opioid-use disorder, and reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths.
Since 2013, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Illinois has doubled, and the number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled, according to the state of Illinois press release announcing the creation of the task force.
More than 1,900 people in Illinois are expected to die of opioid overdoses this year ─ more than one-and-a-half times the number of homicides and almost twice the number of fatal motor vehicle crashes. Between 2013 and 2016 in Illinois, total drug overdose deaths increased by almost 50 percent, overdose deaths involving opioids increased 76 percent, and overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) increased 258 percent.
Jeffers said state and national efforts will be needed to fight the opioid epidemic on the local level.
“We are fortunate to have the grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services,” Jeffers said. “But we won’t stop there. We are working with our Regional Office of Education, law enforcers and our substance abuse partners to make sure we’re providing our community with education and awareness as well as life-saving medicine.”