In 2018, for the first time in five years, opioid-related deaths decreased in the state of Illinois, largely the result of a task force and multifaceted effort among coordinating agencies to tackle the problem.
There were 2,167 opioid deaths in Illinois in 2018, down from 2,202 in 2017.
The success, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, shows what can be accomplished when resources are directed to a specific goal.
The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Department of Human Services led a task force founded in 2017 that included the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery, Children’s and Family Services, the Department of Corrections, the state police and more “to create this state opioid action plan which was released back in September 2017,” Ezike said.
“So with that group of partners all working actively to reduce opioid-related deaths,” Ezike said. “They have helped prevent people from using opioids, they’ve helped prescribers decrease the amount of opioid prescriptions that are written, they’ve provided treatment and recovery to citizens of Illinois, and of course there’s Narcan to help avoid death in the cases of overdose, so all of that together has resulted in finally the first decrease in deaths in five years.”
The flip side, however, is that the statistic applies only to white people who used opioids. Nonwhite and Hispanic opioid deaths, and deaths from addictions to other drugs, such as meth, continue to increase.
“There is some disparity in that the deaths have been decreased for whites but the deaths among blacks and Hispanics have continued to increase,” Ezike said. “So now as we identify this situation, we need to focus our attention, our efforts and our resources to find the specific communities in high-risk populations that need targeted assistance to make sure that these improving results are achieved by all communities in Illinois.”