Hultgren Urges Support for “A Way Out” for Americans Stuck in Heroin and Opioid Abuse
Washington, DC — U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren (IL-14) delivered a statement on the House floor today in support of A Way Out, a successful pilot program encouraging opioid and heroin abusers to come forward and get help from local law enforcement without fear of arrest or inability to pay for treatment. Rep. Hultgren has made combating heroin and opioid abuse in northern Illinois a top priority: https://hultgren.house.gov/heroin.
Following are Rep. Hultgren’s prepared remarks:
I rise today full of sorrow and hope for those caught in the cycle of addiction to heroin and opioids.
This destructive plague is taking aim at Americans across the country—young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban.
Nowhere is this more true than in the Chicagoland area, a hub for drug trafficking spreading across northern Illinois, the Midwest and the United States. The collar counties of Chicago have felt it strongly.
This year in Will County alone there have been 61 accidental overdose cases and 44 deaths from heroin and fentanyl (fen-tin-all) overdoses. This is an extremely discouraging pace surpassing previous years.
The numbers are similar across the seven counties I represent in the 14th Congressional District.
This story has been long untold, and as it continues to gain national attention, it still haunts our communities today.
I got involved more than three years ago when I met Ken Chiakas, who lost his 17-year-old daughter Stephanie to a heroin overdose.
Together we launched our Community Action Plan on Heroin – an analysis of our community leadership forum on the problem, an audit of existing and proposed community partnerships, and next steps for our communities, our state and our country.
In the years following this initiative, I have hosted meetings with law enforcement officers, treatment center workers, advocates for patients and lost loved ones, state and local government officials, emergency room physicians, pharmacists, and drug manufacturers.
Last month, my staff and I traveled throughout McHenry and Lake Counties to hear from local officials firsthand who are experiencing this plague every day.
Law enforcement first responders are on the front lines, fighting drug traffickers and dealers. They’re also saving lives by reviving abusers in the midst of an overdose through the use of naloxone.
It’s now common practice in these police and sheriff’s departments to have naloxone ready to be deployed in the hands of capable and trained officers.
Many lives have now been spared through its use. But even these encouraging numbers do not tell the whole story.
Countless others live and struggle to fight heroin and opioid abuse every day in search of treatment and battling toward recovery.
They know what it’s like to face an overwhelming force controlling their lives. It affects their relationships; it affects their outlook on life; it affects their ability to obtain and keep a quality job.
Local officials expressed great concerns at the loss of workforce, and the many months and years of career advancement and experience those caught in addiction have lost.
Businesses are concerned by their search for qualified workers that doesn’t yield enough or any applicants.
Families are concerned that without adequate outpatient treatment, their loved ones are far more likely to relapse, compounding these workforce and community problems.
That’s why, among other programs, Lake County law enforcement has worked hard to implement the “A Way Out” program.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies come into regular contact with those caught in heroin and opioid abuse, sometimes seeing the same offenders in police stations and prisons several times a month.
Many of these men and women want to be free, but don’t know how—and a police officer is the last person they’d think of to ask for help.
“A Way Out” empowers police officers and opioid users to work together to end the destructive cycle of abuse, dependency, arrest and relapse.
The program is simple: those who seriously want help can ask for it from a police officer or at the police station, and can receive help without fear of arrest of inability to pay for treatment. Officers who see the destruction of opioids every day want to help.
All that’s required is for the person seeking treatment to choose the path to recovery. Individual motivation is essential to success.
As of last summer, 15 people at eight different police departments had taken advantage of this initiative.
Similarly, DuPage County launched Project Connect, a pre-arrest program through which individuals who have been administered Narcan are immediately offered treatment options and a case manager to see these men and women through to recovery.
I am so encouraged by and proud of the success stories I hear throughout the 14th District every day.
Hope is near when those in recovery see a vision of what their life can be like after dependency—a life filled with healthy relationships, challenging and meaningful work, and a clear sense of individual purpose.
We must do all we can to offer this hope to those still suffering from heroin and opioid addiction.
Connecting affected individuals and the people and organizations best equipped to help them is paramount to overcoming this devastating epidemic.
It remains my goal to make northern Illinois the hub of the best minds and the best practices in heroin and opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery.
And I look forward to sharing these best practices and recommendations across congressional districts and the communities we are here to serve.
I yield back.