Kenneally: Opioid overdoses down in McHenry County, up in surrounding counties

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally has asked state representatives to vote against legalizing marijuana in Illinois.
McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally has asked state representatives to vote against legalizing marijuana in Illinois.

The best way to measure our success in combating the opioid epidemic and substance abuse is by taking stock of the lives saved.  

In this regard, McHenry County has made progress over the past year, with overall overdose deaths declining significantly. In McHenry County, the number of total overdose deaths decreased from 78 in 2017 to 51 in 2018.

Importantly, the number of “opioid-related” overdose deaths also dropped precipitously from 64 in 2017 to 39 in 2018, an estimated 40 percent reduction.

Notably, we have achieved these reductions despite the fact that death rates from opioid overdoses in surrounding counties have increased.

In 2018, Lake, Kane, Will, Winnebago and Boone counties saw their “opioid-related” overdose death rate increase when compared with 2017.

McHenry County’s recent success is the result of the unprecedented efforts on the part of law enforcement, courts, the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition, the McHenry County Mental Health Board and Northwestern Medicine.

Certainly, some of the credit is owed to police and paramedics having been supplied with Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote. 

However, Narcan is not the full story. Most McHenry County police agencies were equipped with Narcan in 2017, the worst year on record for overdose deaths. Moreover, the police and paramedics in other surrounding counties where overdose deaths have increased also are supplied with Narcan.

In collaboration with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies, the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office has charged, by far, more drug dealers whose sales resulted in another’s death with drug-induced homicide than any other county in Illinois.  These charges incapacitate local dealers, especially those transporting opioids into McHenry County from places such as Rockford and Chicago, thereby reducing supply, use and mortality.     

In addition, the states’ attorney’s office and local police agencies – in collaboration with the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition, the Mental Health Board and Northwestern Medicine – started the “A Way Out” program. The program allows anyone in the county struggling with substance abuse to access treatment through most police departments in McHenry County. To date, “A Way Out” has linked about 250 people to rehabilitation services.

Substance abuse treatment providers, such as Rosecrance, have been working tirelessly with partners throughout McHenry County to place those in need in one of their facilities. McHenry County’s recovery organizations, such as New Directions, work every day to reach out to those in the throes of substance abuse, link them with treatment, find a job and provide sober housing.

McHenry County’s Adult Drug Court, through an intensive judicial supervision and treatment program, has helped more than 100 defendants suffering from a substance abuse disorder recover and boasts a recidivism rate of only 15 percent. Moreover, the sheriff’s office began offering narcotics anonymous meetings to inmates in 2017. These meetings, as an example of how recovery builds on itself within a community, are facilitated by drug court graduates.

As evidenced by the worsening crisis in nearby counties, the opioid epidemic has not yet loosened its grip. Despite the 2018 reductions, the overdose death rate in McHenry County remains at unacceptably high levels and very well could begin increasing again.

There still is much to be done. In particular, McHenry County is in desperate need of detox and residential treatment facilities, especially for those on Medicaid or without insurance who make up a large share of the substance abusing population.

The only choice for underinsured residents who would benefit from detox or residential treatment is to be placed on a waiting list, often for weeks, at similar facilities in other counties. Unfortunately, the wait often proves fatal.

Because of financial and bottom-line considerations, it is unlikely that a privately operated residential or detox facility oriented toward treating the underinsured will be established in McHenry County in the near future. As such, the most viable model likely will be nonprofits and require significant financial support from the community to get off the ground.

We have begun making plans for such a facility, and anyone interested in assisting with such an endeavor should feel free to contact me at the state’s attorney’s office at 815-334-4159 or                                

The recent reduction in overdose deaths is a credit to the dozens of people in McHenry County who sacrifice daily because they know that no one in a community is unaffected by addiction. With your help, we can increase access to treatment and get closer to the day when the opioid epidemic is a painful memory, and this community emerges from it better equipped to address substance abuse.

• Patrick Kenneally is the McHenry County state’s attorney.

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