Governor JB Pritzker recently outlined a plan to stem the tide of opioid overdose deaths in Illinois.
the Illinois Overdose Action Plan offers new and expanded resources to help treat substance abuse and addiction, including a mobile van with medication-assisted recovery; overdose education and treatment via the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone; and a partnership to provide mental health and recovery services to communities most affected by opioid-related deaths.
In Chicago, the neighborhoods of Austin, Humboldt Park and North Lawndale reported the highest number of opioid overdose deaths ever in 2020 – an increase attributed in part to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic .
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of patients seeking treatment,” said Evelyn Delgado, Medication Assisted Treatment Program Manager at Esperanza Health Centers. “During the pandemic, a lot of resources were unavailable for many patients – many places had waiting lists or weren’t accepting new patients. Many clients were looking for other forms of support because their current support systems were no longer available… They couldn’t get to meetings or go to groups or meet with their sponsors or support network.
Fourteen Chicago Public Library locations in affected neighborhoods are receiving naloxone kits, a move the Associate Vice President of Child, Youth, and Family Services to Catholic charities Laura Kuever says she will undoubtedly save lives.
“The fact that it’s so available in places community members go and so easily accessible, no questions asked, is putting it in the hands of the people who need it most,” said Kuever.
At Esperanza Health Centers, Delgado describes their approach to recovery as a “harm reduction” model.
“We empower patients to identify what recovery means to them and identify their recovery goals,” Delgado said. “We definitely have an ‘all positive change’ type mentality. So if he’s using less, if he has Narcan at all times, if he’s able to get or keep a job, whatever goals we can support, that’s what we’ll be working on with the patient. We also provide Narcan, which is one of the versions of naloxone, free of charge to…any patient who enters our program.
The drug fentanyl has also contributed to illicit drug overdose deaths, Kuever said.
“Along with fentanyl, it’s so potent that a small amount can have real deadly, life-threatening effects,” Kuever said. “For clients who think they’re using heroin and it’s really fentanyl or it contains fentanyl, they’re not even aware of what they’re putting into their bodies and it really has disastrous consequences.”
Delgado said Latinos face additional barriers to treatment for substance abuse issues.
“There aren’t a lot of resources available in Latin American communities,” Delgado said. “Many of our patients have children, so accessing childcare so they can get to appointments or look up resources is a huge barrier… Some of our patients are uninsured or underinsured , and this may prevent or prevent them from seeking resources because they may believe they cannot afford them.
And Kuever said that ultimately more money to help those struggling with addiction will create better outcomes.
“The more funding we have, the more services we can provide, the more innovative we can be with the services we provide and get them and the most easily accessible places so that customers who need the services can get the services that they want. they so desperately need,” Kuever said. “I hate that it always comes down to money, but it always comes down to money.”