As International Overdose Awareness Day Looms, Illinois is Losing the Battle

The Community Behavioral Health Association of Illinois recognizes International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held on 31 August each year, that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.

Thousands of people die each year from drug overdose in Illinois alone.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were 2,772 Illinois statewide drug overdose deaths in 2018. Of those, 2,167 (79%) were opioid overdose-related fatalities. Illinois is on pace to far in 2020 to exceed those tragic 2018 overdose numbers.

Counties have been reported unusual spikes in the number of overdose death during the COVID-19 epidemic.  For example, as of today, Cook County is on track to pass 2000 opioid-related overdose deaths for 2020, compared to 605 last year. And much like the coronavirus outbreak, the opioid epidemic has disproportionately (50%) affected African Americans on Chicago’s West and South Sides.

Over the last few years, numerous initiatives in Illinois have been aimed at reducing the number of overdoses. The Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (IDHS/SUPR) administers the Drug Overdose Prevention Program (DOPP) and the State’s Opioid Action Plan which has been responsible for saving hundreds of lives since 2015. And Community Behavioral Health Association members are on the front lines to implement the state’s plan which is focused on prevention, treatment/recovery, and response.

Regarding social aspects of the recent deaths during the CoVID-10 pandemic, one county health department reported that many who died were living alone, having personal or marital difficulty, suffered from depression or were recently engaged in drug rehab or treatment. With this in mind, CBHA believes Illinois and the behavioral health community have the responsibility – and the opportunity – to develop new strategies and expand on the current activities to address the recent increase in overdoses that are also being fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

International Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that overdose death is preventable. We can and must stem the tide of overdoses here in Illinois.

In remembrance and honor of all those who have died of drug overdoses in Illinois, we can and must do more to turn back the tide of overdoses swamping our state.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO, Community Behavioral Health Association of Illinois

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