When Ken Chiakas' 17-year-old daughter, Stephanie, died of a heroin overdose a year ago, she became another call to action for local stake holders on the war on drugs.
Chiakas, of Des Plaines, joined U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren Monday in Geneva to present a preliminary list of suggestions for how to prevent deaths from a drug that is grabbing more and more headlines across the country.
Hultgren pooled together input from more than 50 health professionals, law enforcement members and local elected officials at a recent forum to brainstorm the issue. Many of the proposed solutions would require action at the state and local level.
Enhancing drug education for area youths, publicizing needle exchange programs and encouraging local nonprofits to create or enhance outreach programs all made the list. On Hultgren's end, the ideas for possible solutions are more challenging.
One solution involves passing laws to control the amount of painkillers doctors prescribe. Prescription painkillers can be a gateway to illegal drug addiction when prescriptions run out and those receiving the medication find themselves addicted. But Hultgren said he is averse to telling the medical community how to treat their patients.
"One of the questions is who should be dispensing (prescription painkillers)," Hultgren said. "That's a constant struggle of what type of degree you have, what type of education, and how much can you dispense. I still think it's best if the medical community is really self-policing this, making sure there's not abuse, and if there's anything left over, ensuring that it's properly disposed of."
Hultgren said he has a hard time in his own household of discovering old prescription drug bottles and remembering what leftover medication was for. Enhanced labeling, particularly for addictive drugs, is a solution Hultgren will consider advocating.
Also on the federal level, Hultgren said the federal health care act created a new problem contributing to heroin and prescription drug abuse. There is a provision in the law, Hultgren said, that ties Medicare reimbursement claims for hospitals to patient satisfaction surveys about their pain management while in the care of the hospital.
"That's something we're going to talk about," he said. "The incentive is now to take care of pain even if it involves overprescribing. You have to question if that's the right way to receive reimbursement."
For his part, Chiakas said he's committed to see Hultgren follow through with a complete examination of the suggestions from the local stakeholders. Chiakas is using the pain associated with the death of his daughter, who was an honor roll student at Crystal Lake South High School, to fuel his new desire to keep other teens and parents from feeling the way he does.
"I'm here to tell you that you never want to face what I have," said an emotional Chiakas. "It's the worst thing you could imagine in your life."
Hultgren invited public comment on the proposed solutions. A full list is available at http://hultgren.house.gov/heroin.