Surgeon General on suburban opioid response: 'Stay the course'

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams visited the Western suburbs Wednesday to promote what he says is one of the major steps to solving the opioid crisis and to tell officials their efforts to decrease overdose deaths are making a difference.

In the first Surgeon General’s Advisory in more than 10 years, which Adams issued in April, he emphasized the importance of naloxone, an overdose reversal agent that revives people who have stopped breathing because of opioids in their system.

Although naloxone does not end addiction and is not a long-term treatment, Adams, an anesthesiologist and former Indiana State Health Commissioner, said it is a vital first step.

“We need to realize we can’t get someone into treatment if they’re dead,” he told an audience of roughly 125 Wednesday during a Community Leadership Forum on the Opioid Epidemic hosted by 14th District U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren. “There is no moral hazard to saving a life. The problem is not with the person; it’s that the system is broken.”

Adams encouraged everyone in the audience at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove to get a dose of naloxone, available without a prescription from at least 135 pharmacies that have received a standing order from the state. With opioid addiction affecting 2.1 million people nationwide, Adams said anyone could witness an overdose.

“Most opioid addiction starts at home and most opioid overdoses happen at home,” Adams said. “This is a problem that each and every one of us has a responsibility to help figure out how we can be part of the solution.”

Adams encouraged officials in public safety, health, justice, drug enforcement, treatment and policy to continue working together to fix the gaps that lead some users to relapse, prison or death.

A major gap occurs at the hospital, he said, where users are revived with naloxone, then often quickly discharged with a referral to a treatment center — even though they’re likely feeling symptoms of withdrawal.

“The best place for a drug dealer to hang out is right outside the emergency room,” Adams said. “Someone comes in, they’ve overdosed. We put them into acute withdrawal (using naloxone). We send them right back out without proper treatment, with a card, ‘Hey call this number and in maybe three, four months they’ll get you into treatment.'”

While meeting earlier with Adams at the Kane County Health Department, Elgin police Detective Tony Rigano said this scenario played out last month, with five overdose responses by his department all involving the same person.

“What I get caught up in is the revolving door problem,” Rigano said. “You get somebody in (to the hospital) only to get a call an hour later for the same person. It’s like, ‘Are you serious?'”

Still, Adams encouraged officers to continue reviving users with naloxone and to meet with hospitals about ways to stop the “revolving door.”

Hultgren said he convened Wednesday’s forum to help address deficiencies in education, treatment, resources and “a culture that often denies we have a problem.” Hultgren has been hosting such gatherings since 2014, and he said he’s encouraged by progress in Washington.

In the omnibus spending bill passed in late March, the federal government allocated $3.3 billion to fight the opioid crisis, an amount Adams said is a record. With a younger brother in jail in Maryland who has struggled with substance abuse, Adams said finding better ways to address the problem is a personal priority.

Hultgren said legislators also are considering about 60 new bills that could further improve education, prevention, law enforcement, insurance and treatment.

Locally, Adams praised programs such as drug takebacks, distribution of naloxone, passage of Good Samaritan laws, naloxone use and efforts by police to connect users to treatment.

“I’m here today mostly to tell you to stay the course,” he said. “Keep doing the things that you all are doing because they are making a difference, even though the epidemic seems like in many ways it may be getting worse.”

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