Foster: Research could be 'transformative' for heroin recovery
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster praised DuPage County drug prevention leaders Wednesday for their efforts to save the lives of overdosing heroin users and get them into treatment.
But as the opioid epidemic rages, he said the issue needs a broader fix.
"It's now a national problem and we need a national solution," said Foster, who represents the 11th Congressional District in parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties, including Aurora, Naperville, Bolingbrook, Burr Ridge and Joliet.
Foster updated roughly 35 members of the DuPage County Prevention Leadership Team about two bills he reintroduced in October to strengthen efforts to prevent heroin abuse and support recovery from addiction.
"For a long time, addiction was just something that was hidden away," said Foster, who is up for re-election Nov. 8. "Thankfully, we've started to change that narrative -- I think, partly because of opioid addiction being so common. It's now seen less as a moral failing and more as a treatable medical condition."
With that mindset comes research into medications that Foster said could lead to advances in opioid abuse treatment and recovery.
One medication -- called Vivitrol -- specifically has piqued the interest of researchers and the scientifically minded Foster, a Naperville Democrat and former physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
"It has the promise of being transformative," Foster said about Vivitrol. "There could be big news on the front of medication-assisted therapy."
Drug treatment providers say Vivitrol works by blocking opioids from attaching to receptors in the brain that they otherwise would stimulate to produce a high. One dose of Vivitrol prevents the effects of opioids for 28 days.
Jim Scarpace, executive director of Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment in Aurora, explains it like this: "If you use heroin or prescription pain pills, your receptor is blocked and you can't get high or can't overdose."
Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, medical director of inpatient chemical dependency services at Central DuPage Hospital, told Foster on Wednesday that Vivitrol's long window of effectiveness means patients recovering from addiction only have to decide once a month that they're ready to get another dose and keep living without heroin.
Foster said new research is comparing Vivitrol to other drugs used in opioid recovery treatment, such as methadone, which eases the symptoms of withdrawal but must be taken daily, and Suboxone, which is a partial opioid blocker but also includes a partial dose of opioid medication to help ease cravings.
First introduced in August 2014, the bills would help doctors identify and refer patients who need substance abuse treatment; analyze the prescribing behavior of doctors; provide training about safe prescribing of opioids; encourage drug take-back events; and provide funding for those without sufficient insurance to access up to 60 days of substance abuse treatment. The bills would provide grants to states to create these programs.
DuPage County Board member Tonia Khouri of Aurora, who narrowly won a Republican primary to advance to the general election against Foster, says she would take a similar approach because the heroin problem is best fought at the local level.
She said she would support a "comprehensive solution" that educates parents, teachers and students and equips first-responders with overdose reversal drugs. But she said the feds shouldn't dictate how efforts take shape across the country.
"I'm a big believer in being community-focused and supporting our local nonprofits and faith-based organizations," Khouri said. "Our local organizations are the experts on the needs of the community. I would support allocating more resources that go directly to them."