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Lt. Gov. Sanguinetti visits Joliet to discuss opioid epidemic
Anastasia Tuskey
/ Categories: News, Substance Use

Lt. Gov. Sanguinetti visits Joliet to discuss opioid epidemic

“Send money.”

That was one of the messages given to Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti at a Friday round-table discussion in Joliet on the opioid crisis.

Sanguinetti was at the Stepping Stones Treatment Center for a stop on a statewide tour in her role as co-chairman of the Governor’s Opioid Overdose and Intervention Task Force. She took a tour of the facility with its 61 beds, visited with staff and clients, and heard about a waiting list that usually has about 200 people.

“It’s a great program, but they need more beds,” said Adam, a Stepping Stones client who joined the panel discussion. “I do know there are a lot of people in the street who need help, and there aren’t enough resources for them.”

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Sanguinetti replied.

She pointed to $40 million in federal funds that have come to Illinois over the past year and $16 million more announced this week, attributing the money to President Donald Trump’s recognition of the opioid problem.

“We believe it’s very promising to get more money from the federal government because the president has already acknowledged that this is an issue of emergent concern,” Sanguinetti said.

In Will County, 95 deaths were attributed to opioid overdoses in 2017.

State funding for Stepping Stones and other centers that treat substance abuse has leveled off after declining for several years, Stepping Stones Executive Director Paul Lauridson said.

Stepping Stones’ $2.2 million budget is supported with more than $700,000 in state funding, although that’s down from where it was five years ago, he said.

“We had funding of over $1 million at one point,” Lauridson said.

The facility gets “2,000 calls a year from people wanting to get in for treatment,” Lauridson said.

Stepping Stones is the only facility in the Joliet area where opioid addicts can be sent for residential treatment, said Dr. Kathleen Burke, director of substance abuse initiatives for Will County.

“We’re lacking the resources that we need to care for people,” Burke said. “Our treatment is weak because we don’t have the facilities or the resources to pay for them. One of the issues is understanding that substance abuse is a medical disorder. They come into the hospital. They get released, and they’re going to use again because they’re in withdrawal.”

Burke said addicts brought to local hospital emergency rooms for overdoses typically are released without further treatment.

Twenty-three people sat at the table for the discussion at Stepping Stones, including Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton, and Will County Health Department Executive Director Susan Olenek. Also in attendance was state Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, who said she’s “had calls from almost everybody in this room in panic because of funding for their programs.”

“I’ve seen the systematic cutting to the bone to the point that there are programs that no longer exist,” Manley told Sanguinetti. “We need the funding. I’m begging you to please tell the governor that we need the funding.”
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