House GOP Heroin Legislation Welcomed, But Warned on “Half-Measures”

House Republican Lawmakers new legislation to combat heroin in DuPage County.

House Republican Lawmakers new legislation to combat heroin in DuPage County.

(Springfield, IL) – Action by House Republican lawmakers to fight Illinois’ growing heroin epidemic was welcomed by addiction advocates who urged the lawmakers to strengthen their proposals.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), State Reps. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst), Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale), John Cabello (R-Machesney Park), and Sandy Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn) on Thursday announced a package of legislation designed to address heroin abuse.

“After seeing firsthand the toll heroin addiction takes on individuals and their families, it’s evident we need to take collaborative actions to stem the tide,” said Reboletti, a former narcotics prosecutor. “This year in Springfield, we are introducing a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at addressing the full range and scope of the heroin epidemic.”

The Republican plan includes substance abuse treatment facility for DuPage County, increased criminal penalties, enhanced data collection, among other measures.

Specifically, the GOP lawmakers have introduced five concrete, but limited proposals:

  • Create a pilot program in DuPage County to establish a secure substance abuse treatment facility that will be a joint partnership between the state and county to serve as a “last chance” option for those convicted of drug crimes.
  • Extend Illinois’ RICO statutes sunset date to 2022, which is currently scheduled to expire in 2017 and allow prosecutors to use a portion of the proceeds from seized assets accumulated by gangs to fund substance abuse treatment programs.
  • Require each county’s Department of Public Health to track and periodically report the number of drug overdose deaths to the State.
  • Enhance penalties for ‘Doctor Shopping’ to strengthen current law to prohibit patients from withholding the fact that they have received the same or similar controlled substance from health care practitioners within a specified time frame.
  • Creates an educational initiative to promote the “Good Samaritan” law by distributing pamphlets to educate holders of opiate prescriptions about the dangers of children and teens gaining access to medications.
  • Crack down on ‘krokodil,’ an often cheaper heroin alternative by enhancing penalties for the drug to be on par with those for heroin.

The leader of Illinois’ top addiction healthcare advocacy group welcomed the House GOP package, but wants more substantive steps.

“We’re grateful that House Republican lawmakers are proposing measures to address the deepening heroin crisis in DuPage,” said Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association CEO Sara Moscato Howe.  “IADDA is committed to working with those legislators to rally our members to help advance their proposals, in particular those of which that will best help individuals working to overcome addiction.”

Howe proposed increasing the current state prevention funding from its historic low of $1 million to $2.5 million.

“Substantive funding for prevention can help begin to put a substantive dent in the crisis,” said Howe. “We’re beyond half measures being effective.”

Since 2009, the legislature has cut drug prevention funding by 88% and drug treatment by 41%, Howe noted.

“The painful reality is that the heroin crisis playing out in Illinois today is, in large part, a result of the legislature’s drastic reduction of drug prevention and treatment funding in the last five years,” said Howe. “If lawmakers want to be serious about fighting the heroin epidemic, they need to invest the money necessary to get the job done.”

And the challenge in DuPage, and elsewhere in Illinois, to blunt the heroin crisis is staggering, DuPage officials say.

“Heroin use in DuPage County and across the state has hit epidemic proportions resulting in nearly one death per week last year,” said Robert Berlin, DuPage County State’s Attorney.

“Last year, DuPage County suffered a record number of fatal heroin overdoses – 46. The victims ranged in age from 15 to 64,” said Grant Eckhoff, DuPage County Judicial and Public Safety Committee chairman. “These victims are not just statistics. Instead they are our neighbors and often our family members.”

“Meeting the threat posed by the growing suburban heroin epidemic requires the best efforts of parents, educators, law enforcement, public health officials and state policymakers,” said Bellock.

Howe agreed.

“One of the best efforts that lawmakers can make is to comprehensively fund drug prevention and treatment,” said Howe. “Otherwise, we are just fooling ourselves that half-measures will solve the problem.”

Op-Ed: Author David Sheff’s Drug Treatment Criticism “Irresponsible”

(Springfield, IL) – In the wake of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from a drug-overdose, the author of a Time magazine op-ed unconscionably distorted the reality of drug abuse treatment, potentially frightening away individuals, like Hoffman, who need help.

Author David Sheff outlandishly claimed (How Philip Seymour Hoffman Could Have Been Saved,” Time, February 2) “90% of those who enter addiction-treatment programs in the U.S. don’t receive evidence-based treatment.”

That’s an utterly irresponsible claim.

The author uses broad stroke generalizations of what, in his opinion, are the limitations the U.S. addiction treatment system, generalizations that are based entirely on anecdotes and conjecture.

In fact, evidence-based treatment has long formed the service core of publicly funded drug abuse treatment providers in Illinois and across the country. Period.

Additionally, one of the most obvious and glaring oversights in this article is the absence of any discussion of chronic care management. Addiction is a disease that is frequently chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal. A key feature of any chronic disease is: relapse. Assertive chronic disease management and recovery management could also have played a role in preventing Mr. Hoffman’s death, a concept embraced and adopted by professional treatment providers in the field today.

Here in Illinois, it is true we do have an escalating prescription drug and heroin crisis and, yes, our treatment system has been weakened by state budget cuts over the past five years, but it is simply unfounded to say that our providers do not employ evidence-based practices.

In fact, the Illinois Department of Human Services has engaged in performance based contracting for substance use disorder treatment services for several years, services that are evidenced based. Provider reports are not only given to the state but also they are posted online so any patient can review the outcomes.

Additionally, the federal government, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has implemented “National Outcome Measures” that the states must report in our annual federal block grant application. These measures are founded on evidence-based practice.

It’s unconscionable that Sheff would write and that Time would publish this kind of misinformation on such a wide scale. This blatantly inaccurate information could actually do more harm than good, deepening the stigma of addiction and undermining the ability of treatment providers to reach those in need who, after reading Sheff’s commentary, would ask themselves: why get any help?

Sheff’s foolish comments may jeopardize the lives of the very people about whom he expresses concern.

It is always heartbreaking to hear the news of another person lost to addiction. We mourn with Hoffman’s family and with the families of so many others who have succumbed to this disease. But it is wholly irresponsible to blame the very system that was responsible for providing him with many years of sobriety.

Sara Moscato Howe, CEO, Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association