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McLean County still plotting Opioid Settlement Fund spending and Narcan access

Cassy Taylor
Emily Bollinger
McLean County administrator Cassy Taylor at a meeting.

McLean County is voting on its 2024 budget Thursday night, which includes a proposal to spend $180,000 in Opioid Settlement Funds.

These dollars resulted from a class-action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, as well as other opioid manufacturers. McLean County is expected to get around $2.2 million over the next 18 years. Bloomington and Normal also are getting funds, though in smaller amounts.

A majority of funds must be used to “address the ongoing opioid crisis through treatment, education and prevention efforts,” according to the Civic Federation.

County administrator Cassy Taylor said the funds are needed.

“We still have issues in McLean County, and our coroner identified recently that overdose deaths are still occurring, and so this isn't a problem that has gone away,” she said.

Meanwhile, vague allocation requirements leave plenty of room for interpretation.

McLean County’s thoughts on spending

In early October, Taylor said the plan was to introduce educational programming on opioids through Project Oz and JOLT Harm Reduction, bring on a prevention specialist, and buy Narcan — a nasal spray naloxone, which is an opioid reversal medication.

Taylor said Narcan was worked into the budget because the county knew it needed Narcan on every floor of its buildings, such as the Government Center, the courts, and the jail.

“We have had instances where people show up to a courtroom, and then they're having an overdose incident,” she said. “And you can imagine the urgency in the staff that then have to find a key to a Narcan box and maybe run up a flight of stairs to another floor where that's located and get into that box and then come back down when someone's in distress.”

The McLean County Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.
Ralph Weisheit
WGLT file
The McLean County Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.

Enough Narcan would be purchased to place at least one box on every floor of every government building.

Taylor said they’re still having conversations about where is best to place them and how training will work. It will depend largely on who is in a building.

For example, the Law and Justice Center might have trained first responders, while other buildings might not. Taylor said there’s still a lot that’s unclear.

“The plans for having Narcan boxes available in the secured side and, like, in the jail, would be very different than the plans that we would make, say in the Health Department building or in the Government Center, or one of our other locations,” she said.

One thing that’s for sure, is the county no longer intends to pay for its Narcan. They’ll be looking to get it for free.

Taylor learned of the county’s ability to get free Narcan later in October. She said at the time that it could change the budget.

“If we have any resources that would make it available to us at no cost, we would certainly reevaluate our plans and use those resources first,” she said in an interview at the end of October.

Now, there’s no “if” about it. Taylor said in an email Tuesday that the county is reassessing.

Ways to get Narcan for free

The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public Health Management Corporation, Dec. 4, 2018, in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke
Someone holds a dose of Narcan.

McLean County individuals, organizations, and the county have multiple options for getting free Narcan. Although Taylor did not specify when the county might get Narcan, or who it might come from.

One way is through Sue Tisdale, community educator at Trillium Place [an affiliate of Carle Health in Peoria]. It’s an Illinois Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution Program [OEND] that oversees McLean County, meaning it can get nasal naloxone free through the state.

Tisdale explained how the process would work for an organization.

“I would provide to them a bulk amount of nasal naloxone and at that point in time, they can distribute to whomever, wherever, whenever they want, and train whoever they want,” she said.

Similarly, Drug Overdose Prevention Programs [DOPP] can order Narcan from the state and distribute it at no cost to people in their coverage area. JOLT Harm Reduction of Peoria and Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington both currently do this. [Individuals can reach out to one of these organizations directly to get Narcan at no cost.]

Another opportunity for Narcan distribution, maybe

More recently, the McLean County Health Department enrolled as a DOPP, providing another opportunity for the county to get free Narcan.

McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said the county was encouraged to consider a DOPP enrollment because it was getting Opioid Settlement Funds.

“That was kind of the catalyst for let's look to move forward with this,” she said. “And obviously, knowing that the opioid epidemic is an ongoing problem across the nation, and even here in McLean County.”

Jessica McKnight poses outside for a headshot.
Courtesy of McLean County Health Department
McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight

McKnight said the Health Department is still determining how it will use its DOPP enrollment. They are in conversation with Tisdale of Trillium Place.

The department also recognizes that Bloomington-based Chestnut Health Systems already provides free Narcan to some organizations in the county, multiple school districts and individuals who inquire. McKnight said the Health Department doesn’t want to duplicate resources.

“Is there a need in our county for increased access?” McKnight said is the question the department is asking. The question extends to harm reduction, which goes beyond Narcan. It can include drug safety tools like fentanyl test strips, or even items like sterile water and needles for people who are already addicted to safely do drugs.

McKnight added her agency will be assessing need through conversations with community partners, including Chestnut, Bloomington and Normal.

“We want to complement each other and really do what's best for our community,” she said.

Whether or not the health department decides to distribute Narcan, the agency will use the DOPP to advance opioid education.

“The administration of Narcan is just one small piece,” said McKnight, noting the department already has rolled out opioid awareness and prevention campaigns across media, including radio, TV and billboards.

Distribution in action

Joe Trotter is the harm reduction program coordinator at Champaign-Urbana Public Health District that has enrolled as a DOPP since 2019. It provided intravenous, or injectable, Narcan for free before that.

Across the state, there are 21 county health departments enrolled as DOPPs, including Champaign-Urbana and now, McLean.

Joe Trotter Headshot
Courtesy of Joe Trotter
Harm Reduction Program Coordinator at Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Joe Trotter.

Trotter said it makes sense for their public health district to distribute Narcan.

“For us, it's really that public health really has that kind of centralized relationship with hospitals with treatment centers, with police departments with first responders, and it just became very, very easy,” he said.

Some counties, he added, might have success going through a non-health department agency for distribution, though. Trotter said mainly it’s important to have a well-known Narcan distributor that people don’t have to search too hard for.

“Overdoses can happen anywhere,” he said. “They can happen to anyone, and you can't use Narcan on yourself, so we need people to be ready to be bystanders, to be ready to intercede on someone's behalf.”

For this to happen, there must be Narcan readily available to everyone. Trotter said making Narcan accessible is also a proven method for fighting opioid overdoses, and so is having a program like DOPP that can get Narcan into a community for free.

“The data tells us that the more Narcan is supplied to an area, the less deaths we have from an opioid overdose,” he said. “So there's a lot of complex reasons why we have so many overdoses right now, and so this is one kind of safety-net type of program.”

Sue Tisdale at Trillium Place said she is “hopeful to get more of the distribution and the education going in McLean County,” as the relationship and partnership with McLean County Health Department develops.

McKnight at the health department said there is no clear timeline for when programming will roll out. It’s still in the beginning stages.

To learn more about outreach from Chestnut Health Systems and JOLT Harm Reduction and learn how to use Narcan, listen or read “How to access opioid overdose reversal medication in McLean County.”

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. WGLT’s mental health coverage is made possible in part by Report For America and Chestnut Health Systems. Please take a moment to donate now and add your financial support to fully fund this growing coverage area so we can continue to serve the community.

Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.
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