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Lieutenant Governor Hears Personal Stories Of Opioid Addiction

A 33-year-old Bloomington woman recovering from opioid addiction at Chestnut Health Systems says additional residential treatment centers are needed, as well as better support for those leaving treatment to return to their communities.

The woman, who identified herself only as Amanda, participated in a roundtable discussion on the opioid crisis at Chestnut that included Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, local doctors, law enforcement officials, first responders, and other health care providers.

"We need housing assistance. We come into rehab and we get these basic skills to live and then when we get out, we have nowhere to live. We have no financial stability," the woman said.

Credit Judith Valente / WGLT
A 33-year-old woman wipes a tear as she tells local and state officials of her struggle to overcome addiction.

"We need immediate crisis detoxes for people reaching out for help so people don't have to die, a mother doesn't have to lose her child over this disease," she said.

The woman told Sanguinetti she grew up in a "loving home," had attended college and began taking drugs when she was 21 to deal with "crippling depression." Her husband, a graduate of Illinois State University, was also addicted, the woman said. She said the two were living on the streets of Chicago when she was arrested and ordered by a drug court into treatment. Her husband died of an overdose while she was in custody.

"I didn't dream as a little girl I'd be a menace to society," the woman told the gathering. She called her addiction "a demon in my soul."

Sanguinetti is co-chair of the Governor's Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. She spoke with several of the Chestnut treatment center residents individually, including a pregnant woman and a man who told her that getting arrested probably saved his life.

Opioid-related deaths more than doubled in the past year in McLean County to 34 from 15, McLean County Coroner Kathleen Davis told the group. She said seven others died of overdoses involving other drugs.

Sanguinetti said the state has secured $40 million in federal funds to provide a 24-hour help line and equip first responders with overdose resuscitation equipment. She said since the task force was established, the state has begun requiring mandatory monitoring of opioid prescriptions.

She said she would like to see more cities adopt programs in which those addicted can turn in their drugs to police in exchange for being directed to treatment programs instead of being arrested.

Several of the medical doctors who attended the discussion noted that a large number of opioid addictions begin when a patient is prescribed legal, but potent pain medications.

Sanguinetti called opioid addiction "an equal opportunity aggressor" that affects people across economic, gender and ethnic lines. She said one of her goals is to break down the stigma so often attached to addiction.

Sanguinetti agreed with Chestnut clients that more residential treatment centers and post-treatment services are needed, but said it would take long-term planning and additional sources of funding.

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