Will County wants to be on governor's opioid task force

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Will County will recommend that its substance abuse director be placed on Rauner's new task force.

Will County officials said they want a board member on Gov. Bruce Rauner's newly created Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.

Members of the county board's Public Health and Safety Committee agreed to nominate Dr. Kathleen Burke, Will County's director of substance abuse disorders to be on that task force.

Burke told the committee Thursday about the governor's latest initiative and said the county had been employing many of the strategies suggested by Rauner.

With a five-year state grant, the county hired Burke last year to tackle the local heroin epidemic.

"He is acknowledging that this is an issue in Illinois, not a law enforcement issue, but a mental health issue," Burke said.

The task force will be co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti and Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, and plans to look at ways to prevent expansion of the opioid crisis, provide treatment for those with opioid-use disorder, and reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths.

The governor's office couldn't be reached for comment late Friday.

According to the governor's office, its plan includes:

• Safer prescribing of opioid medications.

•Education.

•Increased use of naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.

•Data monitoring and communication.

•Increasing access to care.

•Support for substance abusers who are in the court system.

Burke has already initiated many of these strategies in Will County. She has trained all first responders in Will County in the use of naloxone, and in partnership with the Robert Crown Center, has brought educational programs into local high schools.

"They are on the right track and it is everything we are doing here," Burke told the committee.

She hopes to work with the governor's task force to waive the state's limit of 15 beds that a treatment facility can have for substance abuse patients.

"There are a heck of a lot more than 15 people who need help," she said, adding that she is meeting with Stepping Stones Treatment Center in Joliet to see how they can increase capacity.

Burke's other initiatives include:

•Abolishing the term "addict" to eliminate social stigmas about substance abuse disorders.

•Educating judges to understand that addiction drives the behavior of offenders.

•Working on a medical assistance program with the Family Guidance Center, to give Vivitrol to those being released from jail, to reduce cravings for opioids.

•Expanding the Safe Passage program to all police departments in Will County, where substance abusers can turn themselves in to get help.

The governor's office reported that since 2013, the number of heroin deaths in Illinois has nearly doubled, and the number of prescription opioid deaths has almost quadrupled.

Last year, there were 1,889 opioid overdose deaths, an increase of 76 percent from 2013.

Records have also shown a ten-fold increase in deaths involving fentanyl , a synthetic opioid, between 2013 and 2016, according to Rauner's office.

The Will County coroner's office reported 44 heroin-related deaths for the first eight months of this year.

Twitter @SusanLaff

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Article Will County wants to be on governor's opioid task force compiled by www.chicagotribune.com

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