JOLIET – Will County officials are nearing the next big step in fighting the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic that claimed more than 70 lives in the county in 2016.
The Will County Board’s Public Health and Safety Committee met Thursday and discussed a grant that will help the county fight the problem for the next five years.
The county was approached in late 2016 to be a lead agency with the Illinois Department of Human Services, Will County Executive Office Chief of Staff Nick Palmer said.
Federal funding is on the way and is expected any day as it is funneled through the state.
The Illinois Prevent Prescription Drug/Opioid Overdose-related Deaths Uniform Grant will supply the county with $122,500 a year for five years.
Will County was selected because of its aggressive approach to fighting the epidemic.
The grant would help fund the hiring of Dr. Kathleen Burke, president and owner of addiction-fighting and recovery organization Strategic Prevention, to be a project coordinator. Funds also would go toward other parts of what the county is describing as a comprehensive approach.
Burke’s salary is projected to be about $85,000 annually. Health insurance will be covered by the grant.
The full County Board needs to approve the hire and view the grant documents. Palmer said the county would like to get Burke working as soon as possible because the grant period has already started.
“The opioid epidemic has gotten worse,” Burke said. “We’ve seen the numbers this year, and we’ve had more deaths even though we’ve made a concerted effort to get Naloxone into the hands of our first responders.”
Will County is not alone in seeing the uptick in deaths last year with the infiltration of fentanyl into the illegal drug trade.
The much stronger heroin substitute is widely considered a main reason for the increase in deaths.
Will County was fortunate, she said, to become a lead agency on the grant.
“What we’re focusing on in the grant is communicating to the public what the opioid epidemic is about and how to prevent death,” she said.
The county also will expand community education, work for more grants and coordinate different activities to reduce redundancy.