Opioid crisis panel discusses addiction, collaboration

Victoria Lee, Reporter

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Professionals from several Evanston departments said collaboration from city services and the local community would help to prevent opioid overdoses in the area in a Thursday panel discussing the current state of misuse.

The event, held at the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, was hosted by Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and PEER Services, which provides community-based substance abuse prevention and treatment services to people in Evanston and surrounding areas. The discussion centered on the ubiquity of the opioid crisis and the need for cooperation in fighting the epidemic.

“We identified that we really needed to have a community discussion … and get a conversation started,” said Erin Fisher, who organized the panel and is tobacco committee chair of the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

Paul Polep, division chief of the Evanston Fire Department, said that opioid misuse is not a faraway problem, but prevalent in Evanston. EFD responded to 53 calls in 2017 in which it had to use Narcan, a medication that rapidly reverses opioid overdose, Polep said.

Many people are exposed to opioids through family members, panelist Ina Sherman said.The initial contact often hooks them on the drug and provides them with a supply, said Sherman, an alcohol and drug counselor at NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Doreen E. Chapman Center, which provides treatment for those with substance use disorders.

“We find so many younger patients who say that their grandmothers are their source for drugs because they would visit (them), find their medicine cabinets and help themselves,” Sherman said.

Several of the other panelists agreed that many opioid addictions have “innocent beginnings,” and that first interactions with the drug often come from a doctor’s prescription. From there, Sherman said, people may misuse the opioid, and once addicted, may resort to doctor shopping — searching out physicians that will continue prescribing them illegal doses of opioids. They may also seek out cheaper street drugs like heroin in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Ultimately, all members of the panel said the key to fighting the opioid abuse epidemic is “compassionate community collaboration,” as Evonda Thomas-Smith, Evanston’s director of Health and Human Services, said.

Thomas-Smith added it is important to involve both pharmaceutical and health insurance companies as well as medical professionals in the opioid response task force. She said urging these companies and doctors to be more cautious when prescribing painkillers is also vital.

Thomas-Smith further said that partnerships with professionals in alternative medicine, such as acupuncture or massage therapy, should be considered when doctors and health insurance companies dispense pain-relieving solutions to patients.

Susan McClelland, a librarian at Evanston Public Library who attended the event, said she plans on distributing the information she learned through the health programming at the city library.

“(I was) particularly interested in this discussion because we are running a series on mental health initiatives and events,” McClelland said. “This was an opportunity to gather some more information and resources, and make those available to folks in the library setting.”

Email: victorialee2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @dreamertorii