'We can't just arrest our way out of this': Experts explore opioid epidemic in Schaumburg

Could one pill lead to an opioid addiction?

That was the question a panel of experts explored Tuesday as the national opioid epidemic was the topic of the Schaumburg Business Association's monthly breakfast gathering at Chandler's in Schaumburg.

"Sadly, this is a topic most Americans are well aware of," said moderator Ankur Dave, medical director of pain management at the Neuroscience Institute at Amita Health.

In fact, most people are no more than one or two degrees of separation from someone struggling with an opioid addiction, he added.

Dr. Vivek Mohan, an orthopedic surgeon in Hoffman Estates, said between 70% and 80% of those addictions are believed to start with prescriptions from orthopedic surgeons. He emphasized the importance of pre-operation planning to help patients understand the pain they'll experience and establish a time frame to end their narcotic use.

Among the others on the panel was Brad Gerke, director of operations for Banyan Treatment Center in Naperville and a recovering addict himself.

Telling an addict to "just stop" doesn't make sense to that person, he said, describing addiction as a disease of the mind driven by an overpowering thought and desire for more. Addicts will interpret advice to stop as someone wanting to take away their lifeline, Gerke said.

Elk Grove Village Deputy Police Chief Michael Gaspari agreed, saying the training his officers have received about addiction is the kind of public education everyone needs.

"We can't just arrest our way out of this," Gaspari said, quoting Chief Charles Walsh.

That realization led to the creation of the village's Elk Grove Cares Program, a broad initiative to combat the opioid crisis through a number of avenues, including assistance to get treatment for those who need it, the placing of the overdose-reserving naloxone at locations across the community, and education efforts intended to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to addiction.

Gaspari and Gerke also agreed that one of the greatest needs for recovering addicts is a place to go for treatment and a plan to re-enter society so they don't immediately relapse.

If there's any positive side to the epidemic, it's the higher level of awareness and discussion about opioids that was needed all along, said Dr. Mona Patel, who specializes in interventional pain management.

Lina Liu, a licensed clinical psychologist, said she's also encouraged by the greater discussion about the mental health aspects of addiction and the opioid crisis.

Schaumburg Village Trustee George Dunham asked Gerke whether he believes the legalization of recreational marijuana could provide a gateway to addictions.

Gerke said he started smoking marijuana with eight friends while still in school. All eight are now dead from drug overdoses, he said.

"Yes, I believe it's a gateway," he added.

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  Brad Gerke, second from left with microphone, was among the experts to discuss the national opioid epidemic Tuesday during a panel discussion hosted by the Schaumburg Business Association. Mark Welsh/
  Elk Grove Village Deputy Police Chief Michael Gaspari, left, discusses his department's efforts to combat opioid addiction. He was among the speakers to address the topic during a panel discussion hosted by the Schaumburg Business Association. Mark Welsh/
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