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“Still in a crisis,” say experts, Central Illinois dealing with continuing opioid epidemic

The state of the opioid epidemic in Central Illinois is better this year, compared to last – but experts say there’s still plenty of work to do.

“Oh, I would definitely say we’re still in a crisis,” said Chris Schaffner of JOLT Harm Reduction.

“Is it still a crisis? Yes, because people are still dying of overdoses,” agreed Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood.

“I would still say it’s an epidemic,” confirmed Bryan Hinman of Chestnut Health Systems.

This time last year, it seemed like an almost weekly update of tracking overdose deaths mostly related to fentanyl and opioid use.

“It’s not a problem that’s going to go away,” said Harwood. “It hasn’t gone away, it’s still here, and we need to make sure that we’re there to support those people through their treatment. Whatever’s going to help them through.”

From Harwood’s office, Peoria County is at 19 fatal overdoses through the end of July, 2019, compared to 44 through all of 2018.

In McLean County, per Chestnut Health Systems, overdoses in general are down about 30%.

“Just because people aren’t dying doesn’t mean it’s not an issue,” elaborated Hinman. “It’s a long-term issue, and the community has to, on some level, be a part of the solution.”

Experts across counties say more people are surviving their overdoses, thanks in part to the wide distribution of Narcan.

They say, though, that until the underlying issues leading to addiction are addressed, overdoses will continue.

“It’s making sure people have access to healthcare, they have access to employment, to stable housing,” said Schaffner. “If people have those three things, I think we would just see less drug use.”

Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington was awarded a 9.3 million dollar grant to do just that – and help pay for studies to keep people leaving jail clean.

“We have an obligation to help people get back on their feet,” said CEO David Sharar. “I think that’s a commitment we all need to make, I think it’s a good value and of value to our communities.”

If you or someone you know is looking for help, or wants to be safe when using opioids, you should call:

JOLT Harm Reduction | (309) 966-3643

Chestnut Health Systems | (309) 827-6026


Mason Dowling

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