(Chicago, IL) – As heroin deaths surge in several Illinois counties, Madison County has answers that can slam the brakes on fatalities.
Heroin killed at least 15 people in DuPage County in July alone, and Winnebago County is experiencing record overdose death rates. Similar stories are emerging from Marion County and elsewhere across Illinois. Nationwide, heroin use has doubled in the past decade.
Meanwhile, in Madison County last year, an alarming spike in opiate-related deaths among people newly released from jail or residential drug treatment led to a quick and coordinated response to prevent further fatalities.
Between April 2011 and June 2012, opiate overdose had killed eight TASC clients in Madison County. That crisis prompted a team response by the Madison County probation department, jail personnel, treatment providers, and TASC. In July 2012, they implemented the Madison County Opiate Alert Project, which involved closely tracking probationers with heroin addictions as they were released from incarceration or treatment. By communicating immediately with one another regarding these high-risk cases, the intervention team saved lives.
Since the project’s launch one year ago, no TASC client has died from a heroin overdose. (See story on page 4 of TASC’s Spring 2013 News & Views.)
“When a person addicted to heroin or other opiates spends weeks or months in jail, and then returns to the drug upon release, there is a strong likelihood for overdose,” said TASC Operations Director Craig Cooper. “But thanks to partnerships between probation, the jail, treatment programs, and TASC, Madison County has a heroin overdose prevention strategy that so far has exceeded our hopes and expectations. We are committed to our strong collaboration because we know we’re saving lives.”
The project has lessons for other counties that are facing the same crisis.
“This initiative shows that heroin deaths are indeed preventable when we follow what the research dictates and when we implement partnerships and practices accordingly,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez.
“Nevertheless, a key to any drug prevention strategy is adequate funding to fully confront a drug epidemic, so that lessons learned in one area can be applied on a broad scale. A crisis such as what we’re seeing with heroin, in all of its dimensions, needs a coordinated response, whether it targets probationers in Madison County or youth in DuPage County,” stated Rodriguez. “And on this point Illinois has fallen flat, gutting its prevention funding in recent years.”
The state has nearly eliminated drug prevention funding since 2009, and has slashed funding for treatment by a third.
“We are witnessing a public health crisis in Illinois without adequate resources to fight it,” Rodriguez said. “But we will keep fighting.”
For more on responding to the heroin crisis in Illinois, please see previous post: Heroin Deaths Surge in DuPage; Good Samaritan Law and Emergency Meds Can Prevent Fatalities But They’re Not Enough