Illinois is Shaking Things Up
As the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic rage across the country, few areas are harder hit than the Midwest. States like Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois are suffering hundreds of deaths, and thousands more overdoses, each year.
Consider that in 2013 alone 583 Illinois residents passed away as a result of heroin overdose. That isn’t taking into account painkillers or any other prescription medication fatalities. This number jumped to well over 600 in 2014.
So, when it comes time to fight back, these states have historically taken a unique and proactive approach. In late May, the Illinois State Senate continued this trend. They passed a bill with several innovative approaches to fighting opioid abuse.
The bill, House Bill 1, is now sitting on the desk of Governor Bruce Rauner and awaiting his signature. It remains to be seen whether he’ll sign it into law.
Already, though, there are rumblings from policy makers about the proposed cost. No one is sure exactly how much the bill would cost taxpayers, but estimates place it between $25 and $58 million.
That’s a large chunk of change! Critics are also concerned about the shifting attitude around drug abuse. HB1 comes on the heels of medical marijuana legislation that was passed on the very same day.
Regardless, the people of Illinois have spoken. HB1, passed in a sweeping Senate vote after being passed in an equally landslide House vote, is what Illinois citizens want.
Senator Dan Kotowski, a sponsor of the bill, believes in its potential to do good. When asked about it, he responded,
“We’re moving forward in the right direction to be able to protect children and families from the ravages of heroin abuse…I think it’s a very essential and pivotal way of addressing this heroin epidemic” (Chicago Tribune).
What Does HB1 Actually Do?
It’s one thing to say a bill is sweeping and progressive. It’s another to see it in action. How HB1 will fair in action remains to be seen (if it’s even signed into law). For now, though, let’s take a look at what this piece of legislation proposes.
The bill focuses on a few major areas. First, it would expand drug courts and jail diversion programs. Rather than locking up heroin addicts, they’ll be shuttled into treatment programs.
HB1 will require many first responders to carry Narcan (naloxone). This increase in access would be funded through a grant program and give Narcan to police, paramedics, fire fighters, and possibly school nurses.
Next, the bill would create parity between Medicaid and private insurance. Basically, HB1 would require state Medicaid programs to pay for addiction treatment. It would also require those payouts to be on par with private insurance.
Finally, HB1 would institute a prescription drug disposal program. Although the details on this particular program remain vague, it would be some sort of collaboration between local agencies (police, etc.) and citizens.
Critics of the Bill
I mentioned above that HB1 isn’t without its fair share of criticism. Although the bill was passed in the senate with an overwhelming majority (only four senators voted against it), it isn’t universally popular.
Critics of the bill argue that these proposed measures are merely preventative and don’t target the causes and conditions of addiction. They argue that policies should be enacted to help identify the underlying reasons people use heroin in the first place.
Perhaps this argument stems from the high cost of HB1. Remember, the final price tag isn’t set in stone, but it’s thought to cost the state around $40 million. This is coming on the heels of an already astronomical budget deficit (over $3 billion).
Still, for all the critics out there, the majority of officials and citizens are in support of anything that can help stem the tide of heroin deaths. Senator Michael Connelly echoed this sentiment. He said,
“Yes, there are concerns about how we pay for this and how we pay for that…tell that to the parents in my town. Tell that to the parents throughout the state, whose children’s lives have spiraled out of control, and they lose their child” (Chicago Tribune).
It’s clear Illinois needs a solution. This bill looks like a mighty good one to me.