This article is part of a three-part series, "When Heroin Hits Home," in which The Herald-News takes a closer look at Will County's rise in heroin overdose deaths, the families scarred by the opioid epidemic and how local and state officials are attracting much-needed attention to the crisis.
Day One takes a look at a New Lenox family's journey through relapse and recovery; Day Two focuses on another family's struggle with the loss of their son as a court case in connection with his death drags on; Day Three will look at Will County's upcoming opiate education forum and the Heroin Crisis Act, a game-changing state law designed to address the epidemic.
With heroin deaths on the rise, public policy and health officials are turning their attention to a game-changing state law in hopes of painting a clearer picture about the problem’s depth.
More importantly, they want to save lives along the way.
The Heroin Crisis Act – a whopping 256 pages – will be the focus of Friday’s HERO-HELPS-Southwest Coalition Community Summit. It runs from 8 a.m. to noon at the Edwardsville Athletic Center in Romeoville.
“Really, it’s for everybody. When it comes right down to it, there isn’t a person alive who isn’t affected by this in one way or another,” said Paul Lauridsen, event chairman and clinical director at Stepping Stones Treatment Center in Joliet.
“Individuals struggling with addiction can learn what the new law is, and how it’s going to benefit them.”
The act creates an opiate prevention program for public schools statewide, makes Narcan – an overdose antidote – more widely available, prevents over-prescribing of pain medication and provides greater treatment access for people suffering from opioid addiction.
State department heads and the bill’s sponsor – state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie – will be on hand at Friday’s summit to talk about the legislation.
The state’s budget crisis complicates things, but Lauridsen said advocates are counting on Illinois to follow through on its promise to implement the law.
“It’s one thing to have the law. Getting it implemented is an enormous task. A lot of people are working on it,” Lauridsen said, noting how at least nine state agencies hold some level of responsibility with implementation.
The state act outlines data collection requirements so that the full depth of the problem can be understood, Lauridsen said.
“We don’t know a lot beyond the number of overdose deaths,” he said. “[The reporting requirement] is really bringing some basic public health practices to the problem. It all starts with collecting data.”
For example, emergency rooms are often on the frontlines, administering heroin overdose antidotes. But how to track that data is not standardized at the state level, he said.
The legislation requires emergency rooms to provide a detailed report to the state’s Department of Public Health within 48 hours of when a drug overdose is treated. County coroners will be required to report to the state when a drug overdose contributes to someone’s death.
In the doctor’s office
The Heroin Crisis Act also “connects the dots” between over-prescribing prescription pain medications at the doctor’s office and heroin use, said Kathleen Burke, president of Strategic Prevention, a consulting firm specializing in substance abuse.
Under the law, prescribers of controlled substances will be automatically enrolled in the state’s prescription monitoring program upon obtaining or renewing a license.
The bill also prevents medication shopping by notifying health care professionals when a patient has been identified as having three or more prescribers. Physicians must also document necessity when prescribing a patient with Schedule II narcotics over an extended time period.
“People don’t just stop needing pain pills. And if they can’t get them anymore and nobody helps them with their addiction, they end up using heroin. And heroin grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go,” she said.
Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow said bringing everyone under the same roof Friday is key.
“The purpose of this is to get everybody together,” Glasgow said. “Get all the law enforcement, social service agencies and educators together, so we can come up with the best plans possible for the coming year in trying to attenuate this disaster.”
The summit will also have other resources available, including free continuing education sessions for educators, health care professionals and social workers, and treatment and recovery support professionals.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The 2016 HERO-HELPS-Southwest Coalition Community Summit – Will County’s fifth annual – will provide information about the implementation of Illinois’ groundbreaking Heroin Crisis Act that includes provisions to address the overuse of prescription painkillers.
WHEN: 8 a.m. to noon April 29
WHERE: Edward Hospital Athletic and Event Center, 55 Phelps Ave. in Romeoville.
MORE INFO: This year’s community summit will break down the Heroin Crisis Act and examine how it will interface with CDC guidelines. Representatives from a number of state agencies will present at the summit. For information, visit www.herohelpsevent.com
LIST OF SPEAKERS
• Romeoville Mayor John Noak
• Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr.
• Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow
• Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil
• State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie
• Kelly O’Brien, executive director of the Kennedy Forum
• Mark Huston, bureau chief for Illinois Healthcare and Family Services’ pharmacy division
• Maria Bruni, director for Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse
• Bill Dart, deputy director for Illinois Department of Public Health
• Jessica Gerdes, registered nurse with Illinois State Board of Education
• Natalie Pacheco, outreach coordinator for Illinois Department of Insurance
EXPANDING TREATMENT ACCESS
The Heroin Crisis Act will greatly expand treatment access for those suffering from opioid and heroin addiction.
Under the act:
• Medicaid will cover medication-assisted treatment for alcohol or opioid dependence.
• Insurers will no longer be allowed to place arbitrary limits on the level of substance abuse treatment a person can receive. That includes limiting the number of days in treatment or how long a person can remain on maintenance medication.
• Substance abuse benefits, such as copays, must be similar to those of medical benefits.
• Opioid antagonists – or medications that reverse the effects of an opioid overdose – are covered through health insurance.
• Medically necessary acute treatment services – such as 24-hour supervised addiction treatment – is required under coverage.
• State-funded health insurance plans must have established criteria for medical necessity and reasons for insurance claim denials.
Source: Popovits & Robinson’s House Bill 1 Implementation Plan Educational Summary, www.shawurl.com/2jto.