Thursday night, 13 WREX invited experts from our community and across the State of Illinois to weigh in on the growing opioid crisis in our country during a town hall meeting.
During the town hall the expert panel discussed a variety of topics that relate to this crisis.
Panelists included Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah, Rockford Police Chief Dan O'Shea, Rosecrance Harrison Campus Medical Director Dr. Raymond Garcia, Dr. John Pakiela from MercyHealth and community advocate Amy McCormick.
One issue that was discusses was Narcan, the life saving drug that is administered to bring someone back from an overdose.
While some have voiced they believe this is a band-aid fix that only enable addicts more, the town hall our panel disagreed.
"It is the case that not everyone who is brought back to life - that's what Narcan does, it brings people back to life - not everyone is immediately ready to go to therapy rehabilitation," said Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. "But when they are, if that was your brother, your wife your son, wouldn't you love the fact Narcan was there to bring them back to life?"
"We're talking about a brain disease, we're not talking about a character flaw," said Dr. Raymond Garcia with Rosecrance. "If somebody had diabetes and they wouldn't stop eating sugar, and they were having a heart attack, would you question if you were going to save that person's life?"
"We can't play judge and jury in somebody's bedroom or living room when they've stopped breathing," said Dr. John Pakiela with MercyHealth. "This may be rock bottom for them. Tthis may be when they turn their life around; we just don't know at that point."
Rockford Police Chief Dan O'Shea was asked what local law enforcement is doing to curb this problem, outside of just the standard arrests, and if the department is considering anything similar to programs like Safe Passage, which Dixon's police department has seen success with in helping addicts.
It's definitely something we are looking at. We haven't gotten there yet, we don't have the resources for it," said O'Shea. "When people come to us, it's not that we arrest everybody. There have been people who have come to us and are like, 'I'm an addict, I'm shooting up' and okay, well give us your stuff and we'll get rid of it. We don't arrest them and charge them, we try to get them to treatment, but you're talking about expensive (treatment). We use Rosecrance or anyone who will help us out. "We can't treat addicts. At the end of the day, our job is to enforce the law, but try to use diversion tactics as much as we can."
Sometimes, addiction can start after someone is prescribed an opioid by their doctor.
The panel touched on some of the conversations they would like to see the medical community having when it comes to prescribing opioids in the future.
"The key to responsible opioid prescribing is making sure that the patients that need the opioid can get them without an additional burden," said Dr. Shah. "But someone that got a root canal, we really have to wonder if 30 days of Vicodin is what they need or whether a couple days of Tylenol from CVS might do the trick."
Another big topic of discussion Thursday was bringing this epidemic to light and removing the stigma that is attached to addiction.
"If it's an opioid, why are you giving me an opioid?" asked Amy McCormick, who is the mother of recovering addict and an advocate. "Is there a different drug you can use first? Second of all, they need to be locked up. Absolutely lock up any pain medications.
"As a mother of three, I believe we need to be proactive rather than reactive.," said Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. "Once you start reacting, I think you're too late. I don't think you could start early enough."
"Kids talk about it. You're crazy if you think kids in 7th grade don't know what this stuff is," said Chief O'Shea. "Parents who don't think their children know what this is, are talking about it on Snapchat, Instragram, and Facebook, everywhere else - they're talking to people that are nowhere near your next door neighbor."
If you or someone you know needs help with opioid addiction, here are some places you can turn:
Rosecrance is available for counseling and treatment, 888-928-5278. They are located at 1601 N University Drive in Rockford.
The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center can also be a resource, 815-397-3591. They are located at 1706 18th Ave in Rockford.
Anyone looking for a support group can call the Rock River Area Narcotics Anonymous, 815-964-5959
The number of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is 1-800-662-HELP.