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Healing heroin epidemic

Help is there for those who want it

Published: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 4:00 p.m. CDT

The Illinois Valley has been working to tackle the widespread heroin epidemic that took hold of the area in 2015.

Now with more programs in place to help cure addiction and save lives of those at risk of an overdose, it’s safe to say the community has stepped up its game and doing what it can to cure the widespread disease.

At the end of 2015, members of CPASA (Community Partners Against Substance Abuse), which also has a strong presence in Putnam County, were forced to call a town hall meeting to announce the sudden heroin problem that had taken eight Bureau County lives alone that year.

According to Janice Wamhoff, Bureau County coroner, before 2015, the county had only been averaging around one to two heroin-related deaths in years prior.

Law enforcement agencies and members of CPASA quickly recognized the issue and began rolling out various programs to help educate the public, cease the deaths and provide a helping hand to addicts.

In 2016, these programs kicked-off and may have already made a big impact on the issue.

According to Wamhoff, the number of heroin-related deaths dropped back down to one last year.

One thing that CPASA did in 2016 was partner with agencies and got a grant to cover the cost of Narcan for all local law enforcement agencies. Narcan is the medication used to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Dawn Conerton, CPASA coordinator, said every law enforcement agency in Bureau, Putnam and Marshall counties now carries it with them at all times.

“It’s the law now that every law enforcement officer has to have Narcan in their possession,” she said.

It’s important officers carry the medication because most times they are the first ones responding to an overdose victim.

Wamhoff confirmed the use of Narcan by an officer saved the lives of more than one addict in 2016.

Another program CPASA and Bureau County law enforcement agencies got on board with last year was Safe Passages, which started in Lee County in 2015. Safe Passages offers addicts the opportunity to walk into the police station, admit their addiction and are enrolled into a recovery program.

Conerton has helped coordinate the efforts of Safe Passages in Bureau County and said it took in six addicts last year.

Along with Safe Passages, an opioid support group formed. The group continues to meet at 7 a.m. on Monday at the New Hope Church of the Nazarene in Princeton.

Conerton said the group has attracted many members and continues to be a great option for those in recovery

Along with these programs, several organizations including hospitals, churches, schools and non-profit agencies in Bureau and Putnam counties have reached out to help spread awareness and offer needed amenities.

Currently, CPASA is putting together a brochure door hanger that lists area resources including recovery groups, DUI counseling and much more, which they hope to hang on nearly every door in Bureau and Putnam counties this spring.

Terry Madsen, CPASA member, commented on the number of community resources now readily available to addicts.

“It’s like there’s a fire, and a flood is coming,” he said. “I believe we are fortunate that CPASA was here and positioned to be able to act as quickly as we could. The only reason we could do that was from the diversity of our membership,” he said.

Where did this epidemic come from?

Madsen said the issue with heroin in America can simply be traced back to medical treatment facilities over-prescribing opioids.

“There had been a belief in the medical system up to a few years ago that there were low addictive qualities to these drugs,” he said.

In the last five years, doctors began to realize just how high the addiction level of prescription drugs was and how it was leading to heroin users. In turn, that was leading to more crime, such as robbery, theft and selling drugs to pay for addictions.

Once the realization set in, doctors began making drastic cuts to the amount of pain killers prescribed to patients. Madsen said Illinois was actually one of the first states to be clamping down on this issue.

Around this same time, though, Mexican heroin was becoming more available, and because of that, it was driving the price of heroin down.

In 2015, the cost of one hit of heroin was only $5 — much lower than the cost of one Vicodin, a narcotic pain killer.

“We got to a point where prescription drugs became harder to get, and heroin became cheaper and the two crossed,” Madsen said. “For people who were addicted to prescription drugs, it became cheaper for them to turn to heroin.”

The cross between prescription drugs and cheaper heroin happened right around 2014 and 2015. And there’s clear data to back it up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists statistics on drug overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015. During this time, there was a significant increase in 19 states around the country, with Illinois being one of those.

According to the CDC, Illinois’ drug and opioid overdose death rate percentage increased 8.3 percent in 2013-14 and 7.6 percent in 2014-15. In 2013, there were 1,579 opioid-related deaths in Illinois. In 2014, there were 1,705 deaths, and in 2015, there were 1,835 deaths.

The CDC statistics for 2016 have yet to be released.

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