Opioid use is on the rise in Illinois. In response, the General Assembly adopted a plan to create a statewide needle exchange.
The measure calls for a new community-based needle exchange programs, which the Illinois Department of Public Health would have to sanction.
Dan Rabbitt, a health policy analyst for the Heartland Alliance, said one of the entities to advocate for the legislation, said, “The research is in: These programs are effective, they reduce the spread of blood borne illness; they reduce the likelihood of a fatal overdose or any overdose. And the people who participate in these programs are more likely to enter treatment.”
A small number of needle exchanges had already been created through a University of Illinois research program established in the 1990s, he said.
State Representative Deb Conroy, a Villa Park Democrat, said one of the reasons the legislation is necessary is to combat communicable disease such as AIDS and hepatitis C. But education is a required component, too.
“You could make the argument that we're losing an entire generation to this to this epidemic. And by expanding this program, it gives us another opportunity to have a touch, or a human correspondence with somebody who is struggling from addiction, and it makes it five times more likely that that person will go into recovery.”
Dr. Eric Lyon agrees. He is also with the Heartland Alliance
“Perhaps the most important piece of this is putting down a barrier that will allow people to come into care, at whatever pace they're ready,’’ he said,
He says once that contact is made with intravenous opioid users and their peers, they can be trained to use naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. And it would provide a safe way to get rid of the needles.
“I think with the fact that opening up access and opening up the possibility of people touching on to a needle exchange program, gets them in front of someone who may be able to help in other ways. It is going to be beneficial to people who use drugs in the state, and who are therefore at risk of potentially dying of overdose.
As the start of the year, Rabbitt said, 21 states had adopted needle exchange programs.
Conroy said the effort to pass the legislation was bipartisan but she believes more more attention is going to be paid to the opioid crisis with a new gubernatorial administration in place.