Durbin, Dixon Leaders Discuss Initiatives to Combat Heroin Epidemic

[DIXON, IL] – As heroin overdose deaths rise in Illinois and across the country, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss and Lee County Sheriff John Simonton to learn more about the Safe Passage Initiative that encourages addicts to seek out treatment for addiction. The innovative program has helped connect 25 people with addiction treatment in its first two months. Durbin also discussed recently co-sponsored bills to expand treatment for heroin addiction and expand access to naloxone - a drug that counters the effects of an opioid overdose - and other drug prevention programs that have been proven to save lives.


“In recent years, Illinois, like the rest of the country, has seen an alarming increase in drug overdose deaths. These deaths affect the young and old, rich and poor— it is a problem that all communities face,” Durbin said. “With heroin and opioid use on the rise, why wouldn’t we do everything we could to give first-responders access to life-saving drugs like naloxone? I will continue to work to ensure that community groups and first responders on the front lines have the resources they need to prevent more individuals from falling victim to opioid abuse.”


Lee County's Safe Passage Initiative allows those seeking help with addiction treatment to contact police without fear of arrest—provided they do not have outstanding warrants. Participants can also turn over drugs and paraphernalia without being charged.  Volunteers then help guide the participants through the treatment options and place them with a rehabilitation center. The cost of the treatment must be paid by the participant and is typically done so through private insurance or Medicaid.‎


Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has more than doubled, and in most states the number now exceeds the number of traffic-related deaths. Drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of preventable injury death, resulting in nearly 44,000 deaths each year, with most involving either prescription opioids or heroin. In Illinois, there were 1,652 overdose deaths in 2014 – an increase of nearly 29 percent since 2010. In Lee County, 11 people died from heroin related causes between 2012 and 2015.


In June, Durbin introduced the Overdose Prevention Act which aims to decrease the rate of drug overdose deaths by improving access to naloxone.  The bill would provide funding to community-based organizations to purchase and distribute naloxone, and carry out overdose prevention activities, such as educating prescribers and pharmacists or training first responders.


Naloxone has no side effects or potential for abuse, and is widely recognized as an important tool to help prevent drug overdose deaths, but many communities struggle to get naloxone to those on the front lines who need it most. The Centers for Disease Control last month published an analysis showing that between 1996 and 2014, more than 150,000 laypersons at risk of witnessing an overdose were trained in administering naloxone and saved more than 26,000 lives across the country. Thousands of these reversals were in Illinois.


Durbin has also cosponsored legislation to lift the cap on the number of patients physicians can treat using medication assisted therapies. The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (TREAT Act) would not only lift the federal limits on the number of patients a doctor can treat with methadone, but it would also enable nurse practitioners and physicians assistants trained in addiction medicine to treat patients with medication assisted therapies. Following the introduction of the bill, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it will revise regulations related to the prescribing of buprenorphine to expand access to medication-assisted treatment.


Last month, President Obama announced new federal, state, local and private sector efforts to address both the prescription drug and heroin abuse epidemics. These include revising regulations that cap the number of patients a doctor may treat at one time with buprenorphine, thus expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use. The administration is working to double the number of physicians certified to prescribe buprenorphine as treatment for opioid use, from 30,000 to 60,000 over the next three years.