District’s rising fatal opioid overdoses spur Kinzinger’s anti-drug efforts in Illinois

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) focused on solving the opioid epidemic during recent visits across the 16th Congressional District, where the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported several counties are among the top 10 in the state for deaths by opioid overdose.

In late July and August, Rep. Kinzinger hosted forums with local leaders, advocacy groups, law enforcement, recovering addicts, and other community members to help raise awareness about the drug crisis among his constituents, according to an Aug. 10 statement released by his staff.  

The counties of Putnam, LaSalle, and Winnebago in his district have among the highest overdose rates, according to the IDPH’s 2017 Mortality and Morbidity Dashboard data. The IDPH defines such rates as “the rate of opioid overdose per 10,000 population for all demographics in a given geographical area.”

From 2016 to 2017, virtually all counties had increased fatal and non-fatal heroin and other opioid overdoses, according to the IDPH data, which categorizes “other opioids” as synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl) and prescription medications (e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone) obtained legally or illicitly.

On July 7, Rep. Kinzinger discussed numerous drug-related issues during a health care roundtable co-hosted by the OSF HealthCare Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center and the Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council.

“This is an opportunity for me to hear from you, find out what you are seeing on the ground and take your concerns back to D.C.,” the congressman told the group, adding that federal lawmakers “are trying to figure out areas where there are government barriers to find alternative methods to treat pain.”

“There is a very important need for opioids, but is there something out there that in some of these folks’ cases that is non-addictive and can do the same kind of thing? And if there is, is the government blocking either the introduction of these medicines, the research of it?” Rep. Kinzinger said during the roundtable. “So we are trying to find ways for the government to back off and give room for innovation.”

On Aug. 2, Rep. Kinzinger hosted the Will County Opioid Roundtable with State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow and Dr. Kathleen Burke, director of substance use initiatives in the Office of Will County Executive Larry Walsh.

“We are losing an entire generation to substance abuse disorder, and it requires all of us in the community to work together and fight back against this drug crisis,” said the congressman, who along with participants discussed what Will County is doing to address legal and preventative efforts related to the drug crisis.

Rep. Kinzinger noted that “raising awareness and having these solution-driven discussions are hugely important to combating the opioid epidemic,” and he also acknowledged local leaders and first responders in the 16th district and across the nation “for working hard to save lives.”

On July 31, Rep. Kinzinger hosted the Opioid Awareness Community Forum at the Northern Illinois University Conference Center. The congressman participated in a moderated panel along with Doug O’Brien, Region 5 director for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department; Dr. Tom Wright, chief medical officer at Rosecrance; Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana; Dr. John Pakiela, associate EMS medical director at both Mercyhealth Rockford and the nonprofit REACT; and Bobby Gattone, a caseworker and grant writer for New Directions Sober Living.

Rep. Kinzinger also traveled to Bureau, Winnebago, and Grundy counties to discuss anti-drug efforts with first responders at Livingston County 911, Lee County Law Enforcement, and Local 150, according to his staff.

The visits allowed Rep. Kinzinger to also provide a legislative update to his constituents on what Congress has done so far, such as approving $4 billion to help address prevention, treatment and enforcement issues to combat the nation’s opioid crisis, his staff said.