Congressman Adam Kinzinger joined Will County community leaders Aug. 2 for a special working session to discuss solutions and strategies to combat the opioid epidemic.
The roundtable discussion, by design, brought together those fighting to put an end to the cycle of addiction and its impact to the community.
The opioid epidemic hits close to home for many people, not only those in Will County.
“Last year was the first year in history that overdoses exceeded gun deaths in this country,” Kinzinger said.
Several at the working session mentioned how important education is to combatting the opioid epidemic.
Over the years, opioids have become more readily accessible than marijuana. What’s more is that traces of fentanyl laced to drug supplies can make the addiction all the more deadly.
“Just a pinhead worth of fentanyl is enough to kill you,” Kinzinger said.
Congress this year earmarked $6 billion in new funding to fight opioids. A request was made placing an additional $10 billion toward next year’s budget.
Locally, officials hope their efforts to combat the crisis will not be for naught.
Will County States Attorney James Glasgow said the county should take great pride for its efforts.
The Will County Drug Court, established in 1994, has demonstrated a track record of success.
“I never, in a million years, imagined that we’d be facing what we’re facing,” Glasgow said. ‘That tool that we have available to us is amazing.”
The drug court has churned out a number of graduates who often say, if it wasn’t for the program, I would be dead, Glasgow said. Fighting the epidemic gives added difficulty to prosecutors, in part, because they are trained to be tough on crime.
“This is not just a crime, this is an addiction,” Glasgow said. “It’s a sickness, and we have to look at it that way.”
Hon. Victoria Mckay Kennison, an associate judge for the 12thjudicial circuit court of Illinois, said it’s easy to “become disheartened” hearing the reality of what law enforcement is tasked with at the border and beyond.
“We need to continue to invest in our local communities and our local partners to educate,” she said. “We need to educate our children, the parents, our neighbors, and our family members. This shouldn’t be the dark secret of the family.”
Kennison has worked for the problem-solving courts for the last year and a half.
Typically, many individuals entering the prison system are non-violent offenders.
Kennison said she is proud of the efforts made by the problem-solving courts to look at individuals holistically, rather locking them up without regard for mental heath and substance abuse issues.
She added, “All that it doing is raising the costs of incarceration.”
Joliet resident Jeremy, who declined to provide his last name, said he is a participant in the Will County Drug Court and spoke of the challenges that community leaders face in combatting the epidemic.
“Illinois Department of Corrections for their substance program, it’s challenging to get in to,” he said. “If you don’t have a long enough sentence, they don’t put you in.”
Jeremy started off using painkillers at age 13 and went on to use heroin.
He admitted that he always knew he would end up in prison because of the life he led.
Now, at age 25, Jeremy said it is a blessing to participate in the Will County Drug Court program.
“You get into it,” he said. “They work with you; they help you; they put you through treatment. Most times, you go through halfway houses and recovery homes, which are very important.”
Still, access to treatment is an issue in Will County, like it is for many communities.
Currently, there are five diversion programs based in Will County aimed at helping individuals in need to get the treatment they need.
Several at the working session applauded the county’s efforts to combat the problem to this point.
“There is tremendous hope, I think, to be found,” Kennison said. “I understand the dire facts—maybe from outside the borders—but in our community, we are powerful if we all work together and we keep together.”