Five ways lawmakers are trying to curb heroin epidemic

The suburban heroin crisis has spurred several proposals in the Illinois legislature that aim to slow the epidemic.

As the final month of session for the Illinois General Assembly approaches, lawmakers will decide whether to approve the bills soon.

The proposals vary widely and face some obstacles, and here are five to watch.

Indestructible pills

The thinking behind this plan goes that if people can't crush over-the-counter, habit-forming painkillers known as opioids, they are less likely to become pill addicts. Then, they would be less likely to move on to heroin use. A proposal sponsored by state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, would require insurance companies to provide an abuse deterrent coating on opioids, making it impossible to crush the pills and inhale or inject the powder. A similar plan in the Illinois House was initially rejected but could come up again. Earlier in the year, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat, attempted to crush a pill with a hammer during a committee hearing. The pill proved uncrushable.

Yes we Narcan?

Illinois residents could soon be able to purchase the opioid antidote, Narcan, as an over-the-counter drug. Supporters say this would give families and friends of heroin abusers the chance to save their loved ones' lives should they observe an overdose. The proposal introduced by state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, was approved by the Senate unanimously in April.

Safe at school

Putting Narcan in schools could help save students' lives, state Sen. Michael Connelly, a Lisle Republican, says. Connelly wants to allow school nurses to administer the drug to students thought to be experiencing an overdose. DuPage County Coroner Rich Jorgensen has gotten behind the plan, and it was approved by the Senate last month. Suburban supporters in the House are already starting to sign on.

Good Samaritan protection

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat, wants to extend Good Samaritan protection to those who administer the opioid antidote, Narcan, to Illinois residents thought to be overdosing. This could protect first responders from being sued for administering Narcan. The drug does not produce negative side-effects if the individual is not experiencing an overdose, but Yingling says first responders can sometimes be hesitant when the situation is unclear. The plan has not made it out of the House.

The big one

State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, calls his plan the most comprehensive heroin legislation in the nation, but it's not yet been approved. His proposal focuses on stronger drug education, increased use of opioid antidotes statewide, and a more stringent use of the state's Prescription Monitoring Program. The legislation is still being negotiated, and the core will not change, Lang says. “The core being we gotta move away from criminal models for dealing with drug addicts to a rehab model,” Lang said. “The example of drug courts and a greater reliance on the prescription monitoring program which follows people, greater involvement by doctors and pharmacies generally, greater investment by insurance companies and investment by the state of Illinois, all of that is staying intact.”

Several bills in Illinois would make Narcan, a heroin antidote, more readily available. Associated Press file photo
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