More light was shed on the state’s sweeping opioid epidemic, as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that last year Illinois emergency rooms experienced a 66 percent spike in opioid overdoses.
Illinois is not alone in the surge. Opioid-related emergency room visits increased by an average of 35 percent across 16 states—heavily impacting Midwestern states and metropolitan areas. The impact affects the city and suburbs alike, and crosses age groups from youth to middle-aged users.
Legislation seeking to address the widespread prescribing, use and abuse of opioids is moving through the General Assembly. Late last year, a measure was signed (SB 772) requiring prescribers with an Illinois Controlled Substance License to register with and use the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), a database that records patient prescription history. The PMP allows physicians to check previous patient prescriptions and requests for controlled substances. Increasing the required checkpoints in advance of prescribing controlled substances will cut down on “doctor-shopping,” the practice of patients obtaining opioid prescriptions from multiple physicians.
Given the upward trend of the use of the deadly opioid combination, fentanyl-laced heroin, the Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the hike in opioid overdoses was not unexpected, and the numbers further reinforce the need for government to work with health care, community-based organizations and specialists to find solutions to reverse the epidemic. One of his recommendations moving forward was to increase access for medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid abuse to help lessen the symptoms of withdrawal.
In addition to the presence of heroin, hospitals and law enforcement should also stay alert to the shift from heroin use to strong and potentially fatal synthetic opioids including fentanyl and carfentanil—a substance 5,000 times more potent than heroin.