Health and Fitness

As Heroin Crisis Escalates, State of Illinois Falls to 3rd Worst in Providing Treatment

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–August 11, 2015.  While the heroin-use crisis in Illinois and the nation continues to grow, the state is falling alarmingly far behind the rest of the country in providing treatment for users who need help in overcoming addiction, a new study by Roosevelt University shows.

A review of treatment capacity finds Illinois, in just five years, fell from 28th in the nation to 3rd worst in the nation, ahead of only Texas and Tennessee, in terms of providing publicly-funded treatment for addiction.

The study also found that in Illinois 25 percent of state funded treatment admissions were for heroin while nationally that figure was only 16 percent. Chicago and the collar counties fared even worse – 35 percent of those entering treatment reported heroin use as their reason for going. Metro East Illinois heroin admissions quadrupled during the same period and Decatur had a six fold increase.

“We can’t cut treatment and expect the heroin problem to magically get better,” said Kathie-Kane Willis, director of Roosevelt’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy and lead author of “Diminishing Capacity: The Heroin Crisis and Illinois Treatment in a National Perspective.

The study being released today, Tuesday, Aug. 11, finds heroin use to be a continuing problem, not only in the Chicago metropolitan area, which ranked first in the U.S. for emergency room visits related to heroin use, but also in some of the state’s rural areas, which reported shocking spikes for admissions into state-funded heroin treatment programs.

Roosevelt research team members, Giovanni Aviles, David Barnett, Justyna Czechowska, Scott Metzger, Roman Rivera and Benjamin Waite, a mix of social workers, master’s level policy and clinical counseling students from Roosevelt and other universities, examined public treatment data, emergency room statistics and arrest data.

The team found evidence that more youth and women in Illinois are using heroin, while those arrested in Cook County are more likely to test positive for opiates, including heroin, and more likely to self-report to authorities their use of heroin, than in any other place in the country.

“If we want to make the heroin problem worse, we’re headed in the right direction. If we want to save money and lives, we need evidence based policies enacted immediately,” said Kane-Willis. “Illinois needs to provide more – not less- treatment, especially medication assisted treatment. We also need to scale up naloxone access so that fewer people die, and expand syringe programs to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.”

While the study showed the proportion of treatment admissions into state-funded programs for heroin increased dramatically, particularly in the Chicago metropolitan region, Illinois’ capacity to provide such treatment was found to be in free fall, according to data for 2007-12.

In fact, Illinois ranked first in the U.S. for its 52 percent decline in treatment capacity, according to the report. The state also was found to be the least equipped in the Midwest to provide treatment for growing numbers of heroin users in need of help and it also was at the bottom of the nation in terms of having the treatment resources available to aid in their recovery.

From 2007-12, state general revenue funding dropped by nearly 30 percent, and Medicaid funding dropped by 4 percent, leaving state-funded addiction treatment in jeopardy, according to the study. What’s more, the situation is likely to continue under the state’s proposed FY 2016 budget, which includes a 61 percent cut to state-funded addiction treatment.

Kane-Willis argues that expanding treatment funding, especially medication-assisted treatment like methadone and buprenorphine would lower crime and save money. “The benefits of providing methadone for just 2,500 people could save the state up to $100 million in reduced crime and health-care consequences,” she said.

In addition, Illinois is one of only a few states in the nation with a Medicaid program that does not cover medications like methadone and has limits on buprenorphine for heroin treatment. “We need to change this immediately so that these drugs are more readily available,” she said.

The study also recommends Illinois take the following steps:

Increase treatment for prescription opioid drugs, which is the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction.

Increase access to and training for administering naloxone, which reverses overdoses.

Increase availability of syringes in order to prevent other illnesses related to injection drug use and sharing needles.

Jails and prisons should consider creating methadone and buprenorphine treatment programs and connect individuals on release to these programs in the community.

Ensure that state funded drug courts are following evidence based practices – allowing individuals to use medications like methadone and buprenorphine – in accordance with new federal guidelines on drug courts.

Reduce the number of marijuana users sent by the criminal justice system for state-funded treatment, which could increase treatment capacity for heroin cases by as much as 15 percent.