Before the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois was already fighting a public health crisis - the opioid epidemic. Clinicians at two drug rehab centers said more patients have been admitted to their facility since the coronavirus pandemic.
Mercedes Kent is the clinical supervisor of the Springfield outpatient department at Gateway Foundation - a drug and alcohol treatment center.
According to Kent, Gateway Foundation in Springfield admits 35 to 40 patients per week at the residential facility, and serves between 75 to 100 people per day in both telehealth and in-person groups for alcohol and drug treatment - an increase in admissions prior to the pandemic.
Kent said due to the stay-at-home order, there might not be anyone there to call 911 or administer narcan to individuals who overdose. She explained how the pandemic could lead to more opioid overdoses.
“People had unemployment, they had a decrease in funding, and isolation,” said Kent. “Sometimes they were thrust into poverty, idol time, boredom, and this is really a national relapse trigger.”
Brent Cummins, a clinician director at Chestnut Health Systems in the Metro East, said the need for narcan and methadone are substantial, especially during the pandemic.
“Nationwide, there’s 20 million people that have a substance abuse disorder, and almost about 2 million, about 10% of that actually come in to get services,” Cummins said. “So, there's definitely a need for narcan.”
St. Clair County, outside of St. Louis, is reporting 52 overdose deaths so far in 2020. Last year, the county suffered 83 total overdose deaths.
Cummins said Illinois is taking a statewide approach to identify areas where overdoses occur more frequently, and offer funding to facilities to make sure overdose antidotes make it to those who need them, because these needs haven’t currently been met.
“The state has made a great effort in looking at the budget and trying to provide everything we need to promote services,” Cummins said. “In terms of narcan, they have been willing to adjust our budget to allow us to purchase more.”
Rehab clinicians also said another reason for the uptick in overdoses comes from the increase in fentanyl and other synthetic blends. Data from the Illinois Department of Public Health shows that in 2019, Illinois witnessed 14,592 non fatal overdoses, and 2,098 fatal overdoses from opioids.