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updated: 8/24/2015 4:28 PM

Study: While heroin use spikes, treatment options drop in Illinois

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Drug addiction treatment options in Illinois are getting fewer as heroin use continues to increase, particularly in the suburbs, a Roosevelt University study has found.

Among all the states, Illinois had the biggest drop over five years in available treatment slots, reported the study, released earlier this month by the university's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy.

Public funding for addiction treatment in Illinois dropped 30 percent over the same five years ending in 2012.

And while Illinois ranked 18th in funding addiction treatment in 2007, the state fell to 44th in 2012. Only Tennessee and Texas spent less than Illinois on treatment, with four states not reporting data.

At the same time, the Chicago metropolitan area has seen more emergency room visits connected to heroin than other major American cities, including Boston, New York, Detroit, San Francisco and Denver. The Chicago area saw 24,637 cases in emergency departments in 2011, the most recent year data was available.

"The new war on drugs is at the treatment level and the state has been failing miserably at it," said Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst attorney and former Republican state lawmaker who pushed for legislation focusing on more heroin treatment, enforcement and education.

Across the suburbs, despite intense education and outreach efforts over the last several years, the number of heroin overdoses continues to climb. Deaths rose in 2014 in Cook, Kane and Lake counties compared to the year before and dropped in McHenry and DuPage counties. The numbers would be much higher if not for the greatly expanded use of the antidote naloxone by suburban first responders, who saved at least 60 people from heroin-related deaths last year, most of them in DuPage and Lake counties.

David Cohen, a former heroin addict who began using when he lived in Highland Park in his teens and early 20s, credits a state funded treatment facility in California with his ability to get and stay clean in the mid-1990s.

"When I got out of there, I was 24 years old, I was just so inspired by my recovery and the people that helped me that's what I wanted to do with my life," said Cohen, now vice president of substance abuse treatment at Insight Behavioral Health in Chicago.

He went back to college, earned a degree in social work from the University of Michigan and began working as interventionist and recovery coach, serving as clinical director for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Chicago before moving to Insight earlier this year.

"We are increasing usage at the same time the state is decreasing our ability to treat it," Cohen said. "How can that be anything but a recipe for disaster?"

Yet, addiction treatment is competing with many other needs for state funds as Illinois' budget crisis has no end in sight.

The recession, a massive unfunded pension liability and expiration of the state's temporary income tax increase all converged to mean less money for many programs and services. Funding for addiction treatment decreased from $111 million in 2007 to $79 million in 2012, according to the Roosevelt study.

While lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner remain deadlocked on an overdue budget for this year, one proposal would decrease funding for addiction treatment by 61 percent.

Cohen said outpatient centers treating addiction are cutting hours and staff as a result.

"I get that some things have to be cut, but I don't see it as a win-win cutting treatment. You're going to have more crime, more people incarcerated, more people in emergency rooms," he said. "It's going to cost the state anyway."

Mike Loverde, the founder of Orland Park-based Family First Intervention, says long-term care for recovering addicts is often the most effective, but that option is becoming almost impossible for those whose insurance won't cover it.

"I don't have anywhere for them to go (in Illinois)," he said.

On Monday, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed and suggested changes to an anti-heroin bill, sending it back to the legislature with changes that would limit costs to the state.

"It is certainly true that the more we ignore this problem the worse it gets," a sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, said last week. "An easy comparison is how we've handled pensions in the state of Illinois, how not dealing with it straight up and appropriately has led to a worsening problem. ... The same goes for drug addiction and particularly heroin addiction. If we don't dig into this soon, it's going to become a problem where we can't get our arms around it and don't know how to approach it."

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