“This is a problem that’s not going to go away any time soon. The deeper problem is not easily fixed: why peoples’ lives are so out of control they turn to drugs. There are success stories, but these are humans with free will, and not all of them want to get off drugs. If you’re not in the drug world, it’s hard to understand their thinking.”
That was the observation of Dr. Paul Bonucci at a conference on the opioid epidemic moderated last Tuesday by Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby.
Bonucci, who is emergency room director at Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru, was one of a number of participants in the discussion. Among the others also attending were state Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator, and representatives from governmental, social service, medical and public health agencies.
Sanguinetti said the state is working to implement programs to attack the opioid crisis, and to this end, she is visiting communities to learn what else needs to be done.
Sanguinetti and many of the participants, such as Bonucci, pointed out mental health issues underlie drug addiction, so treatment and education should be stressed.
“We need to get past the biggest hurdle — the stigma of drug addiction — and treat it like a disease,” Sanguinetti said.
In this connection, Sanguinetti noted some doctors are reluctant to offer addiction treatment, because they fear a “stigma will surround their practice.”
Dr. Yesenia Valdez, of the Hygienic Institute in LaSalle, is one physician who has no such qualms. She noted at the conference she is glad to offer addiction care, because of the effect she has seen of drug abuse on patients and their loved ones.
Narcan, the drug that revives overdose victims, has been a godsend — Sanguinetti said she herself is trained in its application —
but former addict Jeff Erickson, of Ladd, who works with the drug abuse education group Perfectly Flawed Foundation, noted Narcan comes with a catch.
“Some poor souls are revived in the emergency room, then immediately go into withdrawal and try to find more drugs,” Erickson said.
La Salle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly called for greater curbs on excessive opioid prescriptions by doctors, noting the county is fifth of the state’s 102 counties for highest number of such prescriptions.
Bonucci voiced concern that if prescriptions are cut back, those who were addicted to prescribed opioids will turn to deadlier street versions of the legal drugs.
According to Coroner William Wujek, 19 people have died from opioid overdoses this year in LaSalle County. There were about 40 last year.
The state has a confidential telephone helpline for information, support and connection to treatment services. The number is: 833-2FINDHELP (833-234-4357). The website is: HelplineIL.org.