Experts, public officials, law enforcement, volunteers and survivors came together Friday for the HERO and HELPS Summit on the opioid epidemic in Will County and across the state.
Organizers held the event at the Edward Hospital Athletics and Event Center in Romeoville. The Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization and Will County Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions, in conjunction with the Southwest Coalition for Substance Abuse Issues, hosted the program.
The event kicked off with a resource fair that featured numerous local agencies and organizations, including Soft Landing Recovery, the Will County Health Department and the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, which all help with recovery.
Then, a panel of experts and local and state officials spoke about what they are doing and the progress made to help users locally and across Illinois.
Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti spoke about her work with the Governor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, as she travels throughout the state and hears from those affected by the epidemic.
The group’s goal is to reduce opioid overdose deaths by one-third over three years in Illinois.
“We should be alarmed,” Sanguinetti said. “And we should be fighting, and should be getting together as a community as much as possible. This threat is real, and this threat is here in Illinois.”
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow gave a prosecutor’s perspective on the opioid epidemic by sharing his work with the county’s drug court program.
Drug court is a diversion program for nonviolent drug offenders to get treatment as opposed to receiving a prison sentence.
Kathleen Burke, director of the Will County executive office of substance use initiatives, said it is important that officials such as Glasgow view the opioid epidemic as more of a medical issue than a criminal one.
“The drug court is doing wonderfully,” Glasgow said. “I think the most important thing about drug court is the recidivism rate is only 5 percent. That’s phenomenal.”
Other experts talked about the importance of adverse childhood experiences in opioid and substance use, and Burke provided training in administering naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.
Burke also talked about her passion for one aspect of the issue – avoiding the use of stigmatizing and judgmental language. Not using words such as “addict” or “abuser” could help destigmatize the disease and not discourage people from seeking help, she said.
“The stigma that is associated with substance use is one of the biggest challenges we have in addressing the rise in opioid use,” Burke said. “Addiction is highly stigmatized.”