OP-ED: Gov. Pritzker, Illinois Lawmakers Must Remain Partners in Opioid Overdose Fight

OP-ED: On August 31st, people in Illinois will observe the 20th International Overdose Awareness Day.

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is about remembering the loved ones we have lost and acknowledging the grief of family and friends left behind.

It also about taking real action to save lives.

This year, the cause is more important than ever.

Because the evidence is clear: there were 2,772 Illinois statewide drug overdose deaths in 2018. Of those, 2,167 (79%) were opioid overdose-related fatalities, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Moreover, in 2020 Illinois will exceed the 2018 overdose numbers.

In Cook County, for example, the state’s largest county is on track to double the number of opioid-related deaths from 2019. And while African Americans make up under 24 percent of the County’s population, they account for half of all opioid deaths in the County this year.

Last year, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed 605 opioid overdose deaths between January 1 and July 13. This year, that number stands at 773. But that only tells part of the story. The Office is still awaiting results of 580 pending cases. According to Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, 70 – 80 percent of those cases will be confirmed as opioid overdoses. This means that there are already approximately 1,200 opioid toxicity deaths in Cook County this year.

Additionally, it is also clear that COVID-19 is creating enormous challenges for Illinois and our health system.

But we simply cannot ignore the health crisis of opioid overdoses staring us in the face.

Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly must redouble their efforts and their investments in the state’s behavioral health system to respond to the escalating opioid overdose healthcare crisis.

First, continuing to make it easier for people to access lifesaving Narcan (naloxone) or opioid substitution therapies that help them stay safe is a priority. Second, avoid undermining the addiction treatment financing system by imposing untested rate reimbursement schemes that harm the ability of residential and detox providers to care for individuals in their facilities.

Together – treatment providers, the governor, and lawmakers – we can honor International Overdose Awareness Day 2020 by embracing, funding, and remaining faithful to proven policy solutions to fight opioid overdoses.

Gerald (Jud) DeLoss, CEO, Illinois Association for Behavioral Health

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