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Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, co-chair of the Governor's Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, discusses the opioid crisis in January with clients of the men's inpatient unit for people with substance use disorder at Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington. Behind her is Chestnut staff. Media were allowed to accompany Sanguinetti as she met with male and female clients with the understanding that patients not be identified.

PAUL SWIECH, THE PANTAGRAPH

BLOOMINGTON — Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, co-chair of the Governor's Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, wants to reduce opioid deaths in Illinois by one-third in three years.

On Tuesday, she met some people in McLean County — drug treatment providers, medical professionals, first responders, police and people recovering from substance use disorder — who want to help her achieve that goal.

"It takes a community approach," Sanguinetti said while speaking with clients of Chestnut Health System's men's inpatient unit for people with substance use disorder.

Sanguinetti met with clients of the men's and women's units, then with medical professionals and police to get their perspective on the opioid crisis.

The meetings, among several she is convening statewide, are part of her effort to identify ways the task force goal can be met.

In Illinois during 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, 1,826 people died opioid-related deaths, a 70 percent increase from 2013, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In McLean County, there were 15 opioid-related deaths in 2016 but that spiked to 34 in 2017, said Coroner Kathy Davis.

"I'm seeing a profound increase in overdose deaths," Davis said.

Dylan Ferguson, McLean County Area Emergency Medical Services director, said the number of doses of naloxone (Narcan) administered by EMS providers to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses increased 25 percent from 2016 to 2017.

"A lot of patients are requiring higher doses of naloxone" because more people are taking synthetic opioids in McLean County. Sometimes, heroin, an illegal opioid, is cut with Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, resulting in a deadly cocktail, he told The Pantagraph.

Ferguson asked for an increase in resources for hospital emergency departments to get people the follow-up help they need when they show up in the ER.

"The problem is getting the help to people who have asked for help," he said.

During 2017, Chestnut had 600 admissions into its McLean County drug treatment program for people with opioid use disorder, a 32 percent increase, said Joan Hartman, vice president of behavioral health.

One 33-year-old Chestnut client, who asked that her name not be used, told Sanguinetti and other panelists that she suffered from depression and is a sexual abuse survivor and began self-medicating with heroin in her early 20s.

"I didn't realize I'd unleashed a demon," said the former East Alton resident. "I wanted help. I didn't know where to turn."

She and her husband, Martin, ended up homeless in Chicago. When she was released from jail on Jan. 1, she found that her husband had died alone of an overdose on Dec. 10.

She went through Madison County Drug Court and has been a client of Chestnut's inpatient women's unit since Jan. 5.

"I'm grateful to be in recovery," she said.

"My goals are to move forward in this journey of recovery, to actively participate in society and to be a loving mother to my son," she told The Pantagraph. "My message is this is a disease and we can get better."

Since the task force opened the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances (1-833-2FINDHELP) on Dec. 5, and through last Friday, 954 calls were made to the help line and 349 people were referred for assistance, Sanguinetti said.

In addition, 17,000 health care providers have signed up to use the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program to reduce over-prescribing opioid pain killers.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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