SPRINGFIELD, Ill.- Lawmakers and advocates across Illinois met virtually Tuesday to discuss solutions to the opioid epidemic.
Last year, more than 2,800 Illinoisans died from an overdose. The Illinois Department of Public Health says that's a 30% increase from 2019. Dr. Leslie Wise explained IDPH is currently working to increase Narcan availability to first responders, hospitals, and other emergency departments. She says this drug can save anyone overdosing on fentanyl.
"Synthetic opioids, specifically fentanyl, are the main cause of fatal drug overdoses statewide, accounting for about 83% of opioid fatalities," said Wise.
She also told senators a majority of those who overdose had multiple drugs in their system. Wise said experts refer to this as "Polysubstance Use." She explained that Polysubstance use is becoming common in Illinois and across the nation. She also stressed it's a cause for concern that needs more surveillance.
"IDPH believes that the number of overdoses can be reduced by increasing the availability of harm reduction options, such as fentanyl testing strips and easy access to sufficient amounts of naloxone in the community," said Wise.
Drug induced homicide
Currently, victims who overdose on drugs like fentanyl are held responsible for their own death. However, some advocates say the state should charge drug dealers if they sell fatal drugs to someone.
DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin emphasized, if caught, drug dealers would be charged with a drug induced homicide. Berlin said that's a class X felony.
"The people who are dying in these cases are victims," said Berlin. "They're drug users that the drug dealers take advantage of, and that's why I believe it's very important to hold these dealers accountable for their actions."
Berlin stressed the importance of separating the dealer from the user. He feels educating the public on the dangers of opioid abuse could help, especially for younger Illinois residents.
"Also let them know what can happen if you're selling these drugs to someone and they die as a result of using them," said Berlin.
Members of the Senate Healthcare Availability Committee said they could use this information to craft legislation later this year.