Dylan Ferguson, director of McLean County Area EMS, prepares a dose of naloxone, a drug administered nasally to arrest the affects of a potentially fatal heroin overdose.

The nationwide opioid crisis developed gradually for many reasons and that's why health and public safety professionals in McLean County are addressing the crisis by working together.

"It's going to take a multi-stakeholder commitment," said Camille Rodriguez, director of the McLean County Health Department.

"This is a complex problem that will need to be attacked by multiple angles," Rodriguez said this month. "Working together we can make a difference."

The health department organized a summit in August 2017 when more than 60 representatives of law enforcement, fire departments and other first responders, addiction prevention and treatment providers, behavioral health providers and hospitals gathered to discuss McLean County's response to the opioid epidemic.

Since then, networking has continued but so has the opioid epidemic.

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

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, said Dylan Ferguson, McLean County Area Emergency Medical Services director.

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

During 2017, Chestnut Health Systems 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.

But change is happening.

One goal of the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery program at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center is to reduce the use of opioid painkillers by using other means of pain management. For patients enrolled during the first year of the program, use of in-hospital, post-operative narcotics on comparable patients decreased by 60 percent, said Debbie Dalton, director of quality and safety for the OSF HealthCare Eastern Region.

Dr. Ramsin Benyamin, president of Millennium Pain Center in Bloomington, who testified in February on the opioid crisis before the health subcommittee of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, said Millennium tries to minimize opioid medications while maximizing non-opioid alternatives.

Walgreens announced in February that it is expanding nationwide its number of safe medication disposal kiosks, where people can anonymously and safely dispose of no-longer-needed medicines, including prescription opioids. The announcement was made in front of the kiosk at the pharmacy in Walgreens, 1525 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington.

An increasing number of pharmacies and police departments accept prescription medications for safe disposal.

The Governor's Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, which wants to reduce opioid deaths in Illinois by one-third in three years, opened the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances (1-833-2FINDHELP) on Dec. 5. Meanwhile, more than 17,000 health care providers have signed up to use the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program to reduce over-prescribing opioid painkillers, task force chair Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti said in a recent visit to Bloomington.

"It takes a community approach," Sanguinetti said.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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