Illinois congressman targets fentanyl-laced heroin deaths
In 2016, there were 114 deaths in Lake County from heroin and other opioid overdoses -- almost three times as many as in each of the previous two years.
Hultgren, the congressman for a district that includes Lake County and parts of six other Chicago-area counties, released a report recently on the state of the heroin and opioid epidemic in northern Illinois.
Hultgren also told Patient Daily that he is “working closely with county coroners to ensure we have accurate reporting of fentanyl-related deaths in the area.”
Fentaynl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and is regularly part of heroin packages sold around the country, often without the user's knowledge. Overdose deaths are spiking across the country, and multiple reports link the increase to fentanyl, a powerful prescription painkiller that is often produced illicitly for the street.
“Individuals in our communities are dying faster and overdosing easier because of post-treatment relapses and the rise of fentanyl-laced heroin,” Hultgren said. “Heroin is easily accessible, and fentanyl can be bought on the internet. This is right in our communities, and many people aren’t willing to admit it."
Hultgren said fentanyl overdoses require multiple treatments of nalaxone, the medication used to reverse the effects of an overdose. It is sold mainly under the brand name Narcan.
“Overdosing is now more common and more deadly because fentanyl has made it significantly more difficult for first responders to save people," he said. “For people who have sought help, it often takes three to four treatments for someone to finally break free of addiction, and some police officers have reported saving the same individual with Narcan as many as three times. People are very vulnerable when they come out of rehab, and many overdose right after treatment.”
Hultgren’s report, “Persisting in the Fight,” includes some success stories from his congressional district, but it also offers recommendations for local, state and federal lawmakers to more effectively tackle drug abuse and treat addiction.
“Our community has made good progress fighting this plague since our Community Leadership Forum on Heroin Prevention in 2014, but more work needs to be done,” Hultgren said. “This summer I brought together issue and patient advocates, law enforcement, treatment centers and government officials to discuss where we are, what’s working and where we go from here. I was encouraged by their insights on the state of the problem and what we can do at the local, state and federal levels to more effectively address opioid addiction.”
Hultgren recommends championing long-term sober living facilities that can more effectively shepherd individuals into recovery and prevent relapses that often lead to overdose. He also calls for improving awareness in schools and communities, and identifying grants available under the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, both signed last year.
The report also recommends developing a hospital tracking system that allows emergency rooms to provide accurate, up-to-date county data on overdoses. It also urges a stop to "over prescription," including changing the way hospitals are rated by patients on pain management medications to discourage excessive reliance on opioids.