Four new Illinois laws could prevent opioid overdose deaths, make treatment easily available

SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) – Gov. JB Pritzker signed four proposals into law Thursday to improve efforts to prevent opioid overdose and make treatments more widely available for Illinoisans.

There were 3,013 deaths due to opioid overdose in Illinois in 2021. The Illinois Department of Public Health notes that was a 2.3% increase in overdose deaths from 2020 and a 35.8% increase in 2019.

“Deaths from opioid overdoses are as tragic as they are preventable,” Pritzker said. “By developing harm reduction strategies and expanding drug-court treatment programs rooted in rehabilitation, we can save countless lives. Drug dependency is not a choice – it’s a disorder and should be treated as such.”

Senate Bill 2535 requires pharmacists and other professionals prescribing opioids to inform patients of the possible addiction to drugs. Under this legislation, patients also have an option to receive an opioid antagonist like naloxone and naltrexone if they choose. The change takes effect on January 1, 2023.

“More people are dying of opioid overdoses in Illinois than ever before,” said Sen. Laura Ellman (D-Naperville). “Simply put, the more accessible naloxone is, the more lives will be saved.”

Another plan will block insurers and Medicaid from charging co-pays for naloxone. This proposal builds upon the state’s $13 million investment to expand access to the lifesaving suppressant in 2021. That law takes effect on January 1, 2024.

“We all know someone who has a friend or family member that struggles with addiction – and the thought of that person losing their battle with opioids when lifesaving medication is available is devastating,” said Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake). “We must put an end to the red tape and hurdles people have to go through to receive naloxone so we can tackle the crisis head on.”

House co-sponsor Deb Conroy (D-Elmhurst) said this legislation will create greater awareness on how to respond to an overdose while helping more people access the medication they need to save their life.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2565 will allow circuit courts to implement drug-court treatment programs. This law also allows courts to provide more harm reduction services. State attorneys will now have the ability to file motions to vacate and expunge convictions and records for people who successfully complete the drug-court programs as well. This law took effect immediately.

“Treatment courts are a critical tool in our menu of options to provide alternatives to incarceration in a way that holds people accountable while getting at the root causes of crime which are often addiction, mental health issues, and trauma,” said Rep. Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago). “These courts take a team approach to the court process by providing both supervision – through tight court monitoring – and services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment.”

The final bill signed Thursday allows pharmacists and other health care professionals to distribute fentanyl testing strips to reduce opioid overdoses. This law also explains how professionals can properly store the testing strips in pharmacies, hospitals, and other health care facilities without fear of prosecution. Testing supplies used to detect fentanyl were frequently classified as illegal drug paraphernalia under previous state law. This change takes effect immediately.

“Fentanyl overdoses are killing far too many Illinoisans, as this synthetic, cheap, and deadly opioid is cut into everything from other drugs to diet pills,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). “With the enactment of House Bill 4556, we can get test strips into the hands of any Illinoisan who needs one to detect the presence of fentanyl and prevent accidental overdose deaths.”

Senate co-sponsor Robert Peters (D-Chicago) said this law will help save lives.

“We still have a long way to go, but removing penalties organizations face when they have access to test strips is a responsible way to address the opioid crisis and to create real public safety for all instead of continuing the misguided policies of the past,” Peters said.

The Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes $1.4 billion for mental health and substance abuse prevention programs, which is a $600 million increase since 2019. Alongside that historic investment, Illinois provides prescriber education programs, a prescription monitoring system, and numerous options for safe drug disposal. The Pritzker administration’s state opioid action plan also allocates more funding toward mental health services, addiction treatment services, and children’s family support services to address racial disparities in response to the opioid epidemic.

“These bills mandate the tools, resources, and compassion necessary to help Illinoisans with substance use disorders while addressing the opioid crisis head on,” Pritzker said.

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