Durbin, Lake County Community Leaders Discuss Initiatives to Combat Heroin Epidemic

[LIBERTYVILLE, IL] – As heroin overdose deaths rise in Illinois and across the country, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with members of the Lake County Opioid Initiative to discuss overdose-prevention and treatment strategies. 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.

“Communities across the nation, and here in Illinois, are waking up to an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse, compounded only by the torrent of cheap heroin coming from Mexico. Lake County is no exception,” Durbin said. “With heroin and opioid use on the rise, we should be doing everything we can 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.”

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 Lake County 39 people died from heroin related overdose in 2011, 48 in 2012, 23 in 2013, 38 in 2014, and 29 in 2015 as of November 1.

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.

In November, the FDA approved a new even easier to use naloxone nasal spray. According to the Lake County Opioid Initiative, more than 40 lives have been saved by naloxone in Lake County since first responders started carrying it in 2014.

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 earlier this year 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. Illinois ranked first in the U.S. for its decline in treatment capacity between 2007 and 2012, and had the lowest rate of state-funded treatment compared to other Midwestern states.

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.


In October 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.