The statistics do not lie. As the most current data will vividly reveal, communities across Illinois are in the midst of a harrowing fight against heroin, fentanyl and other types of opioid drugs.
Amid that fight has come fatalities — thousands and thousands of them, to be more specific. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois ranked 23rd of all states for drug-related death increases between 2013 and 2014.
Data from the Illinois Department of Health revealed 1,579 overdose deaths occurred in 2013; the numbers inched upward to 1,705 deaths in 2014, resulting in an 8.3 percent spike. Figures from 2015 are being compiled and are due out soon. Preliminary information points to another year of rising overdose deaths.
Zooming out further, the number of opioid-related deaths in Illinois has quadrupled the past 15 years as demand has shifted from one specific drug to the next. More recently, abuse of fentanyl, used in the medical community in surgeries and post-operative care, has surged because of its high potency and addictive nature.
As assorted news developments have revealed in the first five months of 2016, federal, state, county and municipal officials are making a series of overtures to try and curb the rising numbers of opioid-related deaths.
In late March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it was implementing a new mandate, requiring immediate-release pain medications contain new, clearly stated warnings that are designed to educate and remind prescribers and patients of the dangers of opioid abuse and misuse.
Speaking to the new mandate in a statement, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said it is “one of the largest undertakings for informing prescribers of risks across opioid products, and one of many steps the FDA intends to take this year as part of a comprehensive action plan to reverse this epidemic.”
Closer to home, a number of state lawmakers and agencies are attempting to work with county and local authorities in curbing the opioid abuse epidemic. This spring, lawmakers in Springfield dusted off legislation, House Bill 2743, that sat dormant nearly a year.
State Rep. Emily McAsey, D-Lockport, introduced the bill, which, if passed into law, would give doctors more leeway in offering a form of opioids with abuse-deterred properties, meaning it is less addictive.
The push to increase access of opioids with abuse-deterred properties has been compared to the 2010 reformulation of oxycontin that lowered some of the addictive qualities of that drug. Across the U.S., officials point out oxycontin-related robberies have since decreased as demand has followed suit.
McAsey’s bill has the backing of at least some members of the medical community.
“Abuse-deterred opioids allow the patient to have the medications they need with a significantly reduced risk of abuse,” said Michael Rock, an attending physician in anesthesiology and pain management at Community First Medical Center in Chicago.
A related effort out of Springfield is designed to increase access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone without a prescription. In April, state regulators officially activated the green light and gave pharmacists the opportunity to dispense naloxone.
The new provision is an outgrowth of a state law passed a year ago. Naloxone has been touted as a drug that can reverse potentially fatal overdoses of opioids. To prescribe naloxone, pharmacists need to take part in a brief web-based training program.
Representatives of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office said her administration has long been on a quest to curb opioid abuse, pointing as far back as a 2007 lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies about the marketing of oxycontin.
In that nearly decade-old incident, Madigan joined 26 other attorneys general across the U.S. and had a role in altering and restricting how oxycontin was marketed toward consumers.
“We are concerned about the abuse of prescriptions drugs, and this case raised very serious allegations, along with concerns that young people are particularly frequently abusing this drug,” Madigan said in a statement.
— Measures take aim at rising opioid abuse in Illinois —