Opioid panelist: 'We are in the midst of an epidemic right here in Lake County'
A sophisticated network of delivering and selling drugs exists in the suburbs and puts Amazon to shame, a panelist said Wednesday while addressing the opioid epidemic.
A drug dealer who knows the local market can score drugs in less than 10 minutes, said Dr. Gregory Teas, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Amita Health Behavioral Medicine Service Line. Teas was part of a panel that addressed the opioid crisis and the problems it causes in a community. The Daily Herald Business Ledger presented the forum at DoubleTree Hotel in Mundelein.
A reoccurring theme among the panel members is the stigma that continues to exist when talking about the opioid epidemic that is affecting every single community. "The opioid stigma has to be overcome," Teas said.
"We still have that stigma. We have people saying, that won't happen in my community. That won't happen in my family. My kids play sports, my kids are straight A students, we eat dinner together every night," said Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim. "Yet, I deal with families every day that have lost sons and daughters to overdose deaths," he said.
Nerheim has worked hard to educate the public on the problem and has helped launch an array of programs, including the Lake County Opioid Initiative, the A Way Out Program that allows addicts to gain treatment without being arrested and a Text a Tip program geared toward students.
Panelists agreed that the scope of the problem is huge.
"We are in the midst of an epidemic right here in Lake County as well as across the country," Nerheim said. "This is a powerful addiction."
And despite the efforts, the numbers in Lake County are not looking good this year in terms of the overdose death rate, said panelist Bill Gentes of the Lake County Health Department. According to the coroner's office, last year there were 62 deaths resulting in drug overdoses. So far this year there have been 49. "We're looking at doubling last year's number," he said.
Dr. Peter Hoepfner of Illinois Bone & Joint Institute said doctors must educate their patients on the dangers of addiction and suggest pain relief alternatives. He said doctors must be more cognizant of what medications they are prescribing and how much.
Moderator Mary Lynn Fayoumi, president of the Management Association, said there are warning signs to look for if co-workers suspect opioid abuse is happening in the workplace. Someone who has a habit of calling in sick on Mondays, an increase in workplace injuries, someone who has a problem staying awake at work and pupils that are really small are things to look for.
She also suggested talking about the seriousness of the problem with children, beginning in middle school.
Marie Wilson, a Daily Herald journalist who has extensively covered the topic for four years, was the keynote speaker and addressed the impacts of opioid abuse in the suburbs.
About 70 people attended the forum sponsored by Illinois Bone & Joint Institute and Amita Health.
"I thought it was great. Very informative," said Bill Hagan of Gurnee. The father of two children, ages 12 and 14, he said he wants to be educated on the topic and spread the word to others. "There are so many parents ignoring the situation," he said.