Area leaders fight opioid death increase

Opioid abuse is killing mothers, fathers and kids every day. Nearly 44,000 people in North America die from overdoses every year. That’s nearly 120 deaths every day.

In the United States, more than three out of five drug overdose deaths involve an opioid. That can be heroin or prescription drugs. But it isn’t just a national issue. It’s happening in southern Illinois.

The CDC reports that, since 2004, the southern 33 counties of Illinois have seen spikes in overdose deaths, with counties like Saline, Massac, Pope, Gallatin and Hardin listed among the highest in the state.

On Overdose Awareness Day, leaders are coming together to turn that trend around.

You may not always see it in your neck of the woods, but drug overdoses happen in communities all over southern Illinois. Marvin Lindsey, CEO of Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois, says there were 1,700 overdoses in our area in 2014. But he says he often counts 1,701 to include the death of his sister, Janice Adams. She started using opioids prescribed to help with hip pain, but eventually it became too much.

“Accidentally, she did too much and she died. But it was ruled that she died because of a heart attack,” Lindsey said. He says overdose deaths like Janice’s often go unreported, marked instead as heart attacks or heart disease. But those deaths still contribute to a growing drug and heroin epidemic around the area and the country.

That spike is bringing law enforcement and health groups together on Overdose Awareness Day. Angie Hampton, CEO of Egyptian Health Department, says overdose is a big issue they see in Saline and the surrounding counties. She says she’s excited to see fresh ideas on how to combat the problem as a group.

“So that we can address this issue together, collaboratively, to build a stronger healthier region,” Hampton said. They’re hoping that, by working together as counties, they can better keep drugs off of streets and keep fewer community members from needing to turn to drug treatment facilities.

By creating a regional action plan to increase education and community awareness, Lindsey hopes to prevent other families from losing a loved one to overdose.

“I know this first hand, just how this epidemic can impact, not only communities, but families,” he said.  Lindsey says continuing the fight against opioids in Janice’s memory keeps him motivated to keep fighting the drug epidemic. He says even saving one life through programs like this is well worth it.

Leaders will put together a regional action plan, including county specific plans, to counter the rise in overdose deaths. They’ll meet again in February to see if their changes are impacting the community.

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