When it comes to problem-solving the first step is typically asking and answering questions, and lots of them. The Opioid Action Plan, an initiative launched by Governor Bruce Rauner in response to the overwhelming increase in opioid abuse, is no exception.
The statewide plan focuses on a variety of pillars, priorities and strategies to reduce the number of projected deaths in 2020 by a third.
To address these questions and gain community feedback, Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti plans to attend statewide field hearings at substance abuse treatment facilities over the next year. On September 13, 2017, Rosecrance’s Harrison campus for adults was Sanguinetti’s first stop.
Rosecrance administrators, staff, doctors and alumni attended the gathering to connect with Sanguinetti, learn more about the action plan and provide their own expertise on the subject.
Sanguinetti initiated the day with a simple statement: “A lot of times we think we know what these folks look like, but we don’t. This issue knows no neighborhood, no color, and no class. And, Rockford has been hit hard, really hard.”
Sanguinetti put emphasis on the idea that an addict can be anyone— a stay at home mom, a teenager, or even an elderly person.
“The chair in my office knows everybody,” added Medical Director of Rosecrance Harrison Campus, Raymond Garcia. “It sees homeless people and heads of companies.”
Rosecrance Inc. President Dave Gomel explained that like chronic illness, addiction has its ups and downs. Most people view relapse as a failure, but when someone’s cancer, diabetes, or heart condition resurfaces people don’t see that as a failure; Gomel said this type of thinking is problematic and the stigma surrounding addictions must be eliminated.
“These are not bad people. They are sick people,” said Gomel. “And, addiction is not a matter of choice. It is not a moral issue or a spiritual issue, it is a disease.”
Two people in recovery attended the event, speaking candidly about how the disease of addiction has impacted their lives.
Nick, Rosecrance alumni and now employee, was already using heroin by the age of 15. He described his addiction as an obsession that overtook his life.
“That’s all I thought about during the day— before school, after school, during school. It didn’t matter,” said Nick, “I liked getting high. I thought it was who I was.”
Rosecrance Alumni Joanne went through treatment for her alcoholism, while trying to cope with her son’s heroin addiction.
“When I walked through the Rosecrance doors, I was scared, lonely, helpless and hopeless, but they made me feel comfortable from the start,” she said.
The Opioid Action Plan establishes that opioid addiction is beyond problematic; Illinois overdoses have risen over 120% from 2014 to 2015. It also identifies that the overuse of prescriptions of opiates is hugely to blame for these alarming numbers.
Both Nick and Joanne expressed their appreciation for the action plan, the Lt. Governor’s support and for the expert treatment they received at Rosecrance. Their stories showcase what it is like to come out on the positive, recovering- side of addiction.
Though most stories of addiction are not as promising, which Gomel addressed: “Opioid overdose if the single greatest cause of death among people younger than 25 years old. We must remove the opportunity for this opioid epidemic to become a pandemic.”