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Opioid epidemic: rated E for everyone

Corryn Brock, Reporter

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Nationally, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50, but that doesn’t affect Macon County…right? Wrong. In Macon County, the effects of 118 opioid overdoses were successfully reversed from January 1 to October 31 of 2017.

 

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Often, heroin is used by heating and injecting it via needle. Other methods include smoking and snorting.

As opioid abuse increases all over the country, our small county is not safe from its effects. Since 2013 the overdose death toll has taken a few more people each year, starting at 8 deaths in 2013 and 14 deaths in 2016. However, overdoses are not the only negative effect opioid abusers can experience.

 

Dr. Jignesh Modi who specializes in infectious disease at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur works with patients with varying diseases and has found Hepatitis C to be closely related to substance abuse. From 2009-2015 the rate of Hep. C infection among 16 to 30 year-olds doubled.

Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through blood-to-blood contact, so if someone with Hep. C uses a needle to inject an illicit drug and later someone uses that same needle, it is highly plausible for that virus to transfer and infect the new person and so on. Other diseases that can be transferred through drug use by injection are HIV and Hepatitis B.

Modi believes the way to decrease opioid abuse is to start education in high school to raise awareness of the consequences. “Identify the high-risk kids, that’s probably the [best] way to start.”

Addicts often search for a stronger high with each use of opioids. This can lead to using larger amounts of or stronger painkillers. One option that is relatively cheap and far stronger than other opioids on the market is fentanyl. Synthetic opioid, fentanyl has been thought to increase the death toll due to its potency.

Fentanyl is a pain reliever that is much stronger than other opioids and is usually prescribed for severe pain. Recently, it has been made illegally and distributed through illegal drug markets and frequently mixed with heroin and other drugs, sometimes without the buyer knowing. From 2013 to 2014 overdose deaths including synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) increased by 80%.

The “State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan” from Bruce Rauner calls the current epidemic “the deadliest drug crisis in [the United State’s] history.” According to the Illinois Department of Public Health at its current rate, the opioid epidemic is expected to claim the lives of 2700 Illinoisans in 2020.

There is currently a plan in place with the hopes of reducing the projected deaths by a third. The Illinois plan is broken into three pillars: preventing the further spread of the crisis, providing evidence-based treatment and recovery services to residents battling with opioid use disorder, and responding by averting overdose deaths.

Previously taken steps such as the Drug Overdose Prevention Law, Emergency Medical Services Access Law, and the Heroin Crisis Act have been seen over the years pushing for a change in the opioid epidemic in Illinois.

Locally, Macon County has many resources for addicts to utilize.

The Macon County Sheriff’s office began a program, At Risk Services, while former sheriff, Tom Schneider was in office. Our current sheriff, Sheriff Howard Buffett says, “the idea is that when our deputies come in contact with somebody who has some kind of drug issue that if they don’t have outstanding warrants or they don’t have a violent criminal history… we offer to put them through a program.” Buffett says there is not just one place in Macon County that experiences opioid abuse, “we’ve seen it all across the board. I’ve seen it with middle-aged moms who live in Mount Zion to… people that are living in probably the worst areas of Decatur.”

Kathy Burkham created the Tyler Yount Foundation with the help of her husband Mike Burkham after her son, Tyler died due to an accidental overdose in 2009. The foundation helps establish a state-certified Naloxone program (a drug used in reversing the effects of opioid overdoses) that has trained over 400 responders and others to administer the drug in cases of opioid overdoses.

Tania Diaz, program leader of crisis-detox and residential rehab at Heritage Behavioral Health estimates 20% of people in Macon County are affected by opioid addictions whether it is by being closely related/ friends with an addict or by being an addict themselves. Diaz says, “most people I know either has a loved one or someone they know that is struggling, so the more you start talking about addiction you start finding out it’s impacting lots of families, lots of communities.”

“We want [patients]  to know when they are ready [for treatment] it doesn’t matter, call us anytime. I think sometimes when someone declines treatment they feel uncomfortable reaching out in the future, and so we want them to know ‘when you’re ready, we’re here'”, says Diaz.

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