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State

Rauner releases statewide plan to battle opioid epidemic

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner

With the goal of reducing overdose-related deaths by one-third in
3 years, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration on Wednesday released a statewide opioid action plan that focuses on prevention, treatment and rapid response to an epidemic of heroin and prescription-drug abuse.

“That’s an ambitious goal,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at a news conference at the Sangamon County Department of Public Health in Springfield.

Unless the current trend is interrupted, the opioid epidemic in Illinois, which claimed the lives of almost 1,900 state residents in 2016, is on pace to kill more than 2,700 in 2020, Shah said.

Earlier Wednesday, the Republican governor signed an executive order in Chicago creating the Opioid Prevention and Intervention Task Force, which will carry out his administration’s 53-page plan.

Rauner wasn’t at the Springfield news conference, and Lt. Gov. Evenlyn Sanguinetti, who will co-chair the task force with Shah, sidestepped questions from The State Journal-Register about the Rauner administration’s role in financial difficulties faced by many drug-treatment providers.

The recently resolved, budget impasse – the result of political bickering between Rauner and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly – delayed and reduced funding for many human-service providers, including drug-abuse treatment centers.

At least 1,000 workers at not-for-profit organizations providing treatment services no longer are employed as a result of the budget crisis, according to the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health.

Several programs closed, waits for services got longer, and even though a fiscal 2018 budget was approved by the legislature – through an override of Rauner’s veto – providers are still hurting and will take time to recover, according to Eric Foster, IABH’s vice president for substance abuse policy.

In central Illinois, the Wells Center, a 32-bed treatment facility in Jacksonville, closed in May after 49 years of operation. Wells Center officials cited lack of payments related to the budget crisis as the main reason for the permanent closing.

When a landmark law to address Illinois’ heroin crisis was enacted in 2015, members of the General Assembly had to override Rauner’s amendatory veto of the legislation. The governor previously said he supported most parts of the legislation but had concerns about how the law’s required Medicaid coverage of methadone and medication-assisted treatment would add costs associated with the federal-state program.

The Illinois Association for Behavioral Health is pleased with the governor’s creation of the statewide task force and his support of a statewide action plan, Foster said, adding that the association hopes the task force complements any work being done to carry out the state’s 2015 Heroin Crisis Act.

“At this time, it is the right step for the administration to put this at the tip of their spear,” Foster said.

More money needs to be put into treatment services, Foster added.

There is no price tag attached to the Rauner plan, Sanguinetti said. But she said almost
$40 million in federal funds recently received by the state is “a start” at carrying out the plan’s goals.

She said she hopes the administration plan to revamp and expand the state’s managed-care programs for Medicaid recipients – an effort set to launch in 2018 – will improve access to drug treatment for Illinoisans and begin to “repair” the finances of service providers harmed by the budget crisis.

Maria Bruni, acting director of the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, said, “Services must be available” for the action plan to work.

— Contact Dean Olsen: dean.olsen@sj-r.com, 788-1543, twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.

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©2017 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

Visit The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill. at www.sj-r.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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