Lake County's drug treatment center to double capacity

  • Waukegan resident Mary Gardner said she's quit using drugs since joining Lake County's Medication-Assisted Treatment program in late 2014. She is standing next to an exhibit telling her story that is used by the Lake County Health Department.

      Waukegan resident Mary Gardner said she's quit using drugs since joining Lake County's Medication-Assisted Treatment program in late 2014. She is standing next to an exhibit telling her story that is used by the Lake County Health Department. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Lake County Undersheriff Ray Rose discusses the expansion of the county's program to help those addicted to opioids during a news conference Monday. To his right are Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim and state Sen. Melinda Bush.

      Lake County Undersheriff Ray Rose discusses the expansion of the county's program to help those addicted to opioids during a news conference Monday. To his right are Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim and state Sen. Melinda Bush. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/27/2016 8:05 PM

Lake County officials are adding a key piece in a multipronged effort to combat what's been described as an epidemic of opioid-related abuse.

Top health, political and law enforcement leaders on Monday announced the number of slots at the county's outpatient treatment center will double to 200 to help residents struggling with addiction.

 

Initially, a $325,000 federal grant will allow the health department to expand its Medication-Assisted Treatment program in the next two years. Also, its designation as a federally qualified health care center means the county can bill for services and ensure its long-term operation.

The grant and federal designation will allow the program to:

• Provide medications, primary care, substance abuse counseling and support services.

• Increase the hours of medical providers.

• Add substance abuse counselors.

• Add a licensed clinical social worker as a care manager.

And because changes allow state Medicaid to pay for federally approved medications and therapy to treat heroin addiction, funding will be provided annually as part of the federal health care center structure.

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"This is a big deal because you're talking (about) federal compensation for addiction treatment," said Lake County Board member Steve Carlson, who chairs the board's health and community services committee.

Abuse and addiction have become acute in recent years, prompting various steps to address the issues.

According to the health department, opioid-related deaths grew from 47 in 2008 to 58 in 2015, while heroin-related deaths rose from 30 to 42 in that period. Opioids are medications that include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine and related drugs often prescribed for pain.

Officials said a program that has equipped most law enforcement officers in the county with the opiate antidote naloxone has saved 91 lives in 18 months. But the saves are temporary, officials said.

"It's our kids. It's our family. It's our sons and daughters. We have to continue this fight," Lake County Undersheriff Ray Rose said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"What's next? Treatment is the answer."

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim cited a new program that directs drug users into treatment rather than face arrest as "another cutting-edge" example of addressing the issue.

Rose said administering to jail inmates an extended release form of naloxone, which prevents addicts from getting high on opiates for about 30 days, is another avenue of pursuit.

Criminals belong in jail, he added, but "not people who are ill. They need treatment."

Health officials said the Medication-Assisted Treatment program is always full. Expanding it will help more people like Mary Gardner of Waukegan, who said she was addicted to opioids for more than 20 years. Rehabs, 12-step meetings and therapy helped, but it wasn't until late 2014, when she joined the treatment program, that she quit using drugs and mended relationships with family and friends.

"It turned my life around," Gardner said. "I enjoy life now."

@dhmickzawislak

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