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posted: 9/11/2017 6:43 PM

Editorial: State task force has work cut out for it on opioid crisis

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  • Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of The National Safety Council, unveils statewide poll results Aug. 31 about opioid abuse and overdoses.

      Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of The National Safety Council, unveils statewide poll results Aug. 31 about opioid abuse and overdoses.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It can be hard for us to fathom that there are people who aren't aware of the depth of the opioid crisis in America and in the suburbs. We've been reporting on its inexorable onslaught since our 2001 series "The Hidden Scourge: How heroin and club drugs have taken root in the suburbs." In the 16 years since then, not only have we repeatedly chronicled the spread of the epidemic, but it's been widely reported and discussed in all media. Forums and symposia have been held. Legislation has been written and passed, statewide and nationwide.

And yet, there's this haunting quote from the very first story in our "Hidden Scourge" series: "Everybody is doing their darndest to make as much impact as we can. We're doing things, but what we do is never, never enough." Frustration was already evident in that 2001 reflection by a commander of the Cook County Sheriff's narcotics. It is unimaginably deeper now. So, we need to keep "doing things." Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner acted by creating an Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force to study strategies to halt the expansion of the crisis, find treatments for addicts and reduce the number of opioid deaths. He put Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, of Wheaton, and Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, in charge.

Given the history of the opioid phenomenon, we're not sure how much optimism to hold out for this effort, but we certainly hope for the best. And it's no small observation to acknowledge that for such an intractable condition, any advance at all would be a welcome improvement.

On Overdose Awareness Day Aug. 31, now an annual observance, the National Safety Council released results of a survey showing that opioids have affected the lives of one in three Illinois residents. Even so, 41 percent of the respondents said they aren't concerned about prescription medications affecting them or their families and 65 percent were not aware that drug overdoses, largely from prescription opioids, are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

Clearly, awareness is still a problem when it comes to addressing this problem, hard though that may be to believe. Perhaps that will improve as the coalition of agencies represented on the state's new Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force implements an action plan released in conjunction with the governor's announcment. The plan outlines nine strategies for reducing the expected number of opioid-related deaths in three years by 33 percent - a goal which, by the way, would limit the annual number of overdose deaths to about the equivalent of 2016's 1,889.

We applaud the creation of the panel. We support its work. We know, hearkening back to an expert's reflections more than a decade and a half ago, it will "never, never" be enough. But with diligent oversight, persistent effort and an unwavering commitment to increase public understanding, it at least offers hope of progress.

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