Monday marked the beginning of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, as declared by President Obama, to bring attention of opioid abuse.
“We are in the midst of an epidemic,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters on a conference call Monday morning. Officials from the Justice Department, U.S. Attorney’s offices and the Bureau of Prison are all participating in the nationwide effort to highlight the opioid epidemic, which has seen a 25 percent increase in deaths in Illinois since 2006.
Lynch was joined by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and two, unrelated parents whose sons died from opioid abuse.
“Our stories are all the same,” said Lou Duran, a parent whose son became addicted after being prescribed 90 pills for a sports injury. Later, in his sophomore year of college, he was introduced to heroin, which was cheaper, and his addiction deepened.
As part of an effort to combat opioid addiction, the Department of Health and Human Services announced on Aug. 31, that it will be awarding $53 million to 44 states and four Native American tribes to “improve access to treatment for opioid use disorders, reduce opioid related deaths, and strengthen drug misuse prevention efforts.”
Illinois was one of 11 states that will receive part of an $11 million piece of the grant money from the department to “expand access to medication-assisted treatment.”
The state is also one of 12 that will receive part of an additional $11 million in order to put naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, in the hands of first responders, and train them on how to use it.
Those funds could get an additional $28 million, if Congress passes the president’s request for $1.1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic, a point Vilsack and Lynch stressed.
From pills to powder to patches, Illinois pharmacies bought a little more than 400 million units of opioids in 2015.
More than 275 million of those units were hydrocodone, making it by far the most popular drug in the state, at a rate of almost 22 pills per person, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency and population estimates from the Census Bureau for 2015.
Illinois pharmacies purchased more than 50 million units of oxycodone, the second most popular opioid in the state, at about four pills per person, according to the DEA.
On average, Illinois pharmacies purchased nearly 26 units of hydrocodone and oxycodone last year. Madison County pharmacies purchased about 51 per person, and St. Clair County purchased almost 33 per person.
In addition, Monday was the first day that Walgreens started selling naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, over the counter in its stores in 35 states.