BLOOMINGTON — The creation of a statewide task force to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic in Illinois was welcomed Wednesday by health advocates involved in two countywide opioid reduction efforts in Central Illinois.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order creating the governor's Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force to look at strategies to prevent expansion of the opioid crisis, to promote recovery of individuals with opioid-use disorder and reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths.

"A statewide plan to coordinate efforts across all Illinois counties ... will be an important step for us to achieve our common goal of saving lives and families," said Angela Stoltzenburg of Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln and a member of a Logan County task force working on an opioid response action plan.

Cathy Coverston Anderson, interim director of the McLean County Health Department, said Rauner's executive order was "a welcome addition to the statewide response to the opioid crisis in Illinois." The health department last week hosted a meeting of more than 60 representatives of health care and law enforcement, with a goal of forming a countywide task force to develop a multifaceted approach to address the opioid epidemic.

The governor's task force is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti and Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. The addition of Shah assures that prevention will be among strategies considered by the task force, Coverston Anderson said.

Since 2013, the number of opioid overdose deaths in Illinois has quadrupled. More than 1,900 people in Illinois are expected to die of opioid overdose this year.

The task force will look at increasing the number of health care providers who use the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program; reducing high-risk opioid prescribing; making information and resources more accessible to the public; strengthening data collection, analysis and sharing; reducing the number of overdose deaths of people recently released from institutions; and increasing naloxone (Narcan) availability and training.

Coverston Anderson agrees with the need for a collaborative approach and strategies that destigmatize addiction "so we can fully tackle addiction for what it is: a chronic disease that can be successfully treated with medication, counseling and support."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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