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Durbin Pushes Addiction Treatment Funding, Policing Reforms

Dick Durbin seated and wearing a mask in Senate chamber
Bill Clark
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Pool via AP
Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 20, 2021.

Addiction and mental health treatment centers in Illinois will get $92 million through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to address what advocates say was the worst public health crisis in the country before the pandemic.“We were witnessing skyrocketing races of suicide before COVID-19, but COVID-19 has made these epidemics worse,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Friday during a virtual news conference with mental health and addiction treatment experts. “These epidemics feed on isolation and despair and reduction in essential services.”

Obari Cartman and Dick Durbin in virtual meting
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
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WGLT
Dr. Obari Cartman, left, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin participate in a virtual news conference.

Durbin, D-Ill., also noted a sharp increase in opioid overdose deaths during the pandemic. About 90,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in the latest 12-month period, compared with about 70,000 the previous year.

Jen McGowan-Tomke, chief operating officer at NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Chicago, said treatment for mental health problems is lacking, especially among communities of color.

McGowan-Tomke noted the pandemic has been especially difficult on children and young adults, saying noted one in five children in Illinois has a mental health condition.

“I see this (funding) as perhaps the biggest opportunity we had to move the mental health conversation forward and begin to address needs in the mental health system from a comprehensive and healing-centered approach,” McGowan Tomke said.

Dr. Obari Cartman, president of the Chicago Association of Black Psychologists, said he’d like to see funding target minorities neighborhoods in Chicago’s south and west side, where he said many people have struggled with a combination of trauma and mistrust of the health care system.

Cartman said he wants to “reimagine” health care services that are culturally relevant, incorporating sports, multimedia, dance and hip-hop in communities of color.

“We have all these modalities that people are comfortable with that we are infusing mental health conversations with, and adding skill building around emotional intelligence and coping,” Cartman said.

Dr. Thomas Britton is president and CEO of the Gateway Foundation, a nonprofit addiction treatment provider.

Britton said COVID-19 widened the access-to-care gap, especially in rural areas, since counseling had to be done virtually.

“What we need and we have seen our populations struggle with is having the technology to join with broadband,” Britton said. “We have people that don’t have devices. We don’t have plans where they can use it. We are sitting at a crossroads.”

Britton said many treatment centers also are struggling with high staff turnover. He said many nurses and counselors quit because of the health risks associated with COVID-19 and all the safety protocols they had to endure.

Durbin said he expects Illinois will get additional money to help schools and other organizations provide mental health treatment and counseling for children.

“That is so critical that was reach these kids before they join the gangs, before they are in despair, turning to gangs for support and guns and terrible outcomes,” Durbin said.

ARP also expands health insurance coverage and provides $1 billion in scholarships and loan repayment awards to health professionals who agree to serve areas with limited health care access.

Policing reform

On another topic, Durbin said he plans to push policing reform next week in the wake of the Derek Chauvin murder conviction for the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will lobby for lifting qualified immunity for police.

“Our experience in regular day-to-day life is that we are responsible for our conduct. If my conduct ends up in an injury or death to an individual, his family should have the right to recover in court,” Durbin said.

Durbin added he would be open to compromise by keeping immunity in place for individual officers as long as their employer could be sued for an officer's wrongdoing.

“This is not a question of taking away the home of a policeman, it’s a question of compensating victims,” Durbin explained. “If we can find a way to do that in a fair way, I want to try to achieve that goal.

“I think progress is being made.”

Durbin said the committee also will discuss a ban on chokeholds and a video requirement for all traffic stops, among other reforms.

D.C. statehood

Durbin said granting statehood to Washington, D.C., would be long overdue, but he's not optimistic the proposal will pass in the Senate.

“With a 50-50 (Democrat-Republican) Senate, it is unlikely we can find 10 Republicans will support this effort,” Durbin conceded. “The filibuster would stop the D.C. amendment in the Senate as I presently count the votes. If there is some change in this, I will be surprised, but I am hoping that it happens.”

The U.S House approved D.C. statehood on Thursday along party lines.

Durbin said the 700,000 people who live in the nation's capital deserve equal representation in Congress.

Republicans have consistently opposed D.C. statehood. The district has generally leaned Democratic.

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