“The price of heroin is ⅙ of the cost of a prescription pain pill,” says Eric Foster, Vice President for Substance Abuse Policy for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Association. “Where a pill would cost you $30, you can get a bag of heroin for $5-$10, and the purity level makes it a more powerful addiction.”
State data suggests the largest number of individuals struggling with a heroin addiction are in the 20-35 year old age range. This is comparable to the young adult range affected by heroin throughout the U.S. The state isn’t taking it lying down. There’s legislation for a ban targeting bath salts and synthetic cannabinoids in Illinois. In the northeast part of the state near Lake County, pilot programs are in place to put prescription drop boxes in the police stations.
“The DEA hosts annual events where police stations have drop boxes on a specific day,” says Foster. “There are a lot of factors that go into play. There’s a lot of money and cataloging that goes into it, not to mention they have to be stored in a locked area. There’s a huge price tag that goes along with it.”
The state’s biggest push right now?
Naloxone. Foster says there are a number of organizations pushing for training and implementing officers to carry the drug on their person at all times. Naloxone, the antidote to heroin overdose, has been successfully distributed to law enforcement officials in other states, and in Pennsylvania groups are hoping to make the drug available to everyday citizens who may know someone struggling with heroin addiction.
“House Bill 1 is a comprehensive bill that would require pharmacists to carry Naloxone for public use,” says Foster. “All of these different systems are addressing the issue in different ways. There is a bill focused on school nurses related to the provision of addiction treatment, so it’s a key effort in Illinois.”
While the state is working to fill in the gaps, Foster says 66% of state drug treatment and prevention funding has been cut since 2009, and they are proposing another $27 million cut this year. Funding for treatment in the state, which was just under $8 million in 2009, Foster says is next to nothing this year.
“Each year we are fighting to ensure funding,” says Foster. “Only 5% of people addicted to alcohol have access to the services they need in Illinois. Only 12.13% of people addicted to drugs. So, on average only about 10% of people fighting addictions have access to services.”
Foster says that unfortunately the priorities of the state have focused on making sure productive, employed members of society receive the help they need, and when that happens, there is a cut to services helping people to achieve those goals. But he says the mission of their group is simple.
“You have to provide services that help these individuals,” says Foster. “A lot of people say, ‘they did it to themselves, why should we have to pay?’ You’re going to pay for it one way or another, and it’s cheaper to treat it rather than pay for it in incarceration or rising healthcare costs.”
Eric Foster has over 17 years of experience working in the field of addictions. He guides the development of public policy recommendations for internal and external programming and research activities, supporting IADDA’s mission and strategic objectives for a statewide, comprehensive system of community-based Substance Use Disorder (SUD) prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. Mr. Foster is actively engaged in statewide committee and workgroup discussions to ensure SUD prevention, treatment and recovery support services are a continued priority as the state rolls out implementation of Medicaid Managed Care, Care Coordination efforts, Medicaid Expansion, and other healthcare reform initiatives in Illinois.