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Report: State-funded drug aid dries up as Chicago's heroin problem worsens

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by John Keilman

Illinois' state-funded drug treatment has dried up at the same time the Chicago area has developed the nation's worst heroin problem, a Roosevelt University report concludes. The report, to be released Tuesday, found that Illinois' per capita treatment admissions are among the lowest in the country, ahead of only Texas and Tennessee. The state has slashed treatment spending by nearly 30 percent since 2007, according to the report, and Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget calls for further cuts. Nicholas Pecora, deputy chief of the Arlington Heights Police Department, explains how naloxone saved a 19-year-old girl who overdosed on heroin. August 10, 2015.  The Chicago area, meanwhile, is racking up more heroin-related emergency room visits than any other metro area. Kathie Kane-Willis, a Roosevelt researcher who is the report's lead author, said the scope of the problem is directly related to the diminished funding. "It's making the situation worse, I think, because if people can't get into treatment, they continue to use," she said. Illinois' heroin crisis has drawn increasing attention from government officials in recent years, and lawmakers have proposed numerous measures aimed at attacking the problem. One of the most expansive bills, the Heroin Crisis Act, was approved by both chambers in May but has yet to be signed by the governor. Kane-Willis said that bill would be especially helpful because it would allow the state's Medicaid program to pay for methadone, a medication used to ward off heroin cravings. The bill comes with a $15 million price tag, though, and the Illinois Department of Human Services has said it is unaffordable. "Heroin is a serious public health threat facing the state of Illinois, and Governor Rauner looks forward to working with lawmakers on combating this problem," a spokeswoman for the governor said in a statement. "He will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk." Lake County Health Department reaches out to heroin users Eric Foster, of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, a trade group for treatment providers, said while addiction services have always had to scramble for public funding, the problem has gotten much worse in recent years. "In budget crisis times, the funding that's most at risk is the funding that's not mandated," he said. "There are a lot of things the state is obligated to pay for; addiction treatment is at most risk because there's not that mandate."  State-paid treatment covers all manner of addictions, but the Roosevelt report says that more and more, heroin is the reason people seek help. Since 2007, publicly funded treatment admissions related to the drug have soared in numerous Downstate metro areas, including Decatur, Peoria and the eastern suburbs of St. Louis. The number increased slightly in the Chicago area, bringing the portion of heroin-related treatment admissions here to 35 percent (the national average is 16 percent). "It's really kind of penny-wise and pound-foolish not to put the money in, because you're paying for it somewhere else," Kane-Willis said. "I know we're in a fiscal crisis, but all this playing chicken over the budget is making the heroin problem worse." Jail inmates tell stories of addiction in sheriff's heroin video Ron Vlasaty, of Family Guidance Centers, a treatment provider with offices around the state, said the sharp reduction in state funding cited by the report doesn't tell the whole story, because many low-income people in recent years have had their treatment paid for through Medicaid. He added, though, that Medicaid's lack of coverage for methadone and services such as case management and aftercare has nonetheless created a hardship. "We still have to rely on state revenue to (provide those services)," he said. "If (the decline) continues, that will be a problem." "" Kate Mahoney, of Evanston's PEER Services treatment center, said some people dealing with heroin addiction are eligible for treatment via insurance they've obtained through the Affordable Care Act, but that, too, is an imperfect solution. "Many have high deductibles, so in essence, for something like outpatient treatment, those plans aren't really helping people access that care," she said. "They have to spend $3,000 to $5,000 before they get relief from insurance." Veronica Vera, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, declined to comment on the Roosevelt report but said the agency is seeking "additional funding for the prevention of heroin use and misuse of opioid prescription medications." Officials should know within 45 days if they have landed that funding, she said.


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