Addiction advocates, doctors decry heroin bill veto

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Addiction advocates, treatment specialists and doctors are decrying Gov. Bruce Rauner?s amendatory veto of the Heroin Crisis Act in the name of budget cuts. (WLS)

There is growing concern that people struggling to overcome heroin addiction in Illinois will not get the help they need.

Heroin addiction is a growing problem in Illinois, but Gov. Bruce Rauner has cut drug treatment funding from a bill, saying the state can't afford it. There are fears the cuts could have a life or death impact on recovering addicts.

Gov. Rauner has been looking for ways to address the state's budget problems and appears to have found a place to reduce costs by vetoing part of the Heroin Crisis Act. But advocates say that veto could cost all Illinoisans.

Gateway Foundation staff see 10,000 addiction patients each year. For most the problem is heroin.

"Chicago as a city has more emergency room visits per capita than anywhere in the country," says Dr. Tom Britton, Gateway Foundation, President & CEO.

Among the layers of support provided in recovery is a medication, a shot the addict gets once a month. The medication is expensive, about $1,000 per injection, and it is the medication the veto action from the governor may make unavailable.

"I think at the end of the day my biggest challenge is that people will die if we dn't provide them with the medication that they need to stop their addiction," says Dr. Britton.

Gov. Rauner offered an amendatory veto to the Heroin Crisis Act. He supports much of the bill but removes a requirement for Medicaid to cover all forms of addiction therapy to prevent adding to the state's deficit.

The governor released a statement, saying, "the State's Medicaid programs already cover multiple forms of medication necessary to treat alcohol and opioid dependence."

"We are kidding ourselves to think that with budget cuts we're going to get anywhere," says Dr. Gail Basch, director of Addiction Medicine at Rush University Medical Center. "We need more money, lots more money."

Dr. Basch says helping the addict now saves society in the long run.

"They won't go on to progress with disease, social problems, crime, transmissible diseases like HIV," she says.

Some of the counselors at Gateway Foundation's center on the West Side of Chicago have personal experience with addiction, and are concerned the addicts they are trying to help may not ever reach the recovery they have found.

"It's going to cause clients not to want to stick around and go through that painful withdrawal from heroin," says Gateway Foundation counselor Willie Russell.

"It's devastating because these individuals, they have so much potential," says counselor Sally Gomes.

The bill's sponsor has proposed an override of the governor's veto. The house will vote on that override next Wednesday.

Related Topics:
healthpoliticsaddictionheroinBruce RaunerChicago - North LawndaleChicago - Near West Side
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