From prevention to recovery, dozens of McHenry County agencies battling the opioid epidemic are offering the best use of their share of the recent $3.4 million settlement the county received as part of a global Big Pharma settlement.
The McHenry County Board of Mental Health will distribute $1.7 million of the county’s $3.4 million share of the $26 billion awarded worldwide last year. The funds are part of a negotiated settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2017 against major manufacturers and distributors of opioids.
The mental health board determines which programs to fund based on “what would have the greatest impact with the money,” said Laura Crain, program coordinator at the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition. The board will also choose based on ideas that fit with its own mission.
Nearly 60 agencies and nonprofits that serve McHenry County have been asked to provide information, which is being used to help give the mental health board a “clear view” on how best to use the funds, said Fear.
The Abuse Coalition was tasked with bringing agency leaders together to develop needs assessments, propose programs and identify the county’s greatest needs “right now,” Crain said.
The other half of the $3.4 million will be invested, and the interest from that sum will be dispersed and reinvested to create or support drug prevention and treatment programs, Crain said.
In 2017, when McHenry County joined the lawsuit, 73 opioid overdose deaths were recorded, according to the McHenry County Health Department. This number fell to 49 in 2018 and 31 in 2019. A slight rebound was observed in 2020 to 47. In 2019, the number of recorded deaths was 32.
As of May, eight people had fatally overdosed on opioids, with the cause of death in two cases still being determined, according to the McHenry County Health Department. Four other overdoses were caused by other drugs.
The money is expected to be made available to the county sometime in August. Selected programs would submit formal applications and could see funding next year, Crain said.
“The board will look at what other agencies are providing, what we have, what we want, what our community needs and what does that look like,” Crain said.
For Live4Lali Executive Director Laura Fry, this need and desire is like recovery coaches, preventing and dealing with mental health issues before they turn into an addiction, also known as a related disorder. to substance use.
“I believe the majority of substance use disorders stem from mental health and trauma,” Fry said. “We continue to put bandages on what I see to be an amputation.”
Live4Lali, based in Arlington Heights, helps provide items for people who are active with their substance use disorder in hopes that they do so safely. Using a mobile unit, Fry and others travel to suburban Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage and McHenry counties, providing clean syringes, sniffing kits, fentanyl test strips and naloxone.
“Okay, let’s get Narcan. OK, let’s get some test strips. This is all important, but what we never get to is the why. Why is this happening?” Friy said. “We have a huge shortage of mental health professionals.”
Similarly, Chris Reed, managing partner of the Crystal Lake-based Northern Illinois Recovery Center and chairman of the board of New Directions Addiction Recovery Services, said the money needed to be invested in something sustainable and long-term. It should be used to ‘fill the gaps’, for example by providing better access to mental health services to people before they turn to drugs and develop a disorder.
There are also gaps in ongoing long-term outpatient care and personalized treatment plans tailored to the individual and their family, said Reed, who is also recovering from substance use disorder.
Although millions of dollars will come to the county from the settlement, the money will go quickly and “isn’t enough to fix the problem in the long run,” Reed said.
“We need to find creative ways to serve the uninsured and underinsured,” Reed said. “We need something profitable and sustainable.”
Reed also supports funds dedicated to recovery coaches. He employs recovery coaches at his treatment center. Their salaries are paid for by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
A recovery coach is different from a sponsor who is tied to Alcoholics Anonymous’ abstinence-based 12-step program, which doesn’t work for everyone, said Fry, who is part of a coach program recovery coach and certified to train other recovery coaches.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all recovery,” said Fry, who has been in recovery herself for 40 years and hasn’t followed a 12-step program. “You have to take that person and work with them, their body, their mind and their soul and figure out what will work best.”
The recovery coach, now billable through Medicaid, is trained and certified by professionals, plus a peer and usually someone who’s lived the life of addiction, Fry said.
A licensed and certified recovery coach works on a life plan and helps where past approaches have “notoriously” failed, she said.
“We thought [by] send someone into treatment for 30 days, they come out cured and we move on. That’s rarely the case,” Fry said. “You can’t cure years of mental health issues that lead to substance use disorder in 30 days.”
Currently, 10 certified recovery coaches are available to service McHenry County, but, Fry said, the county needs more.
“The most important role of a recovery coach is to say, ‘I know where you are at. I’m on this side now. Let me help you find your way to this side,'” Fry said.
Crain, who said the coalition has four or five ideas for funding, agrees with Fry that recovery coaches are part of McHenry County’s needs.
“I’d like to start a recovery coaching program to help navigate recovery, like addiction life coaches, and help them deal with the day-to-day,” Crain said.
Crain said a recovery coach also helps teach someone life skills, such as writing a check or managing a budget.
“We see people struggling to live in reality,” Crain said. “A recovery coach would be there for that. To walk this path with you.
Fry described a recovery coach as “a person with lived experience” who will be there to “support” the person trying to recover from a substance use disorder.
“We need this person as a peer, right there with you and to work out a life plan that will work for you, not just to stay off all drugs,” Fry said. “At the end of the day, that could be a great goal, but what if a person has housing issues, insufficient food, doesn’t have the right family support?”
Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black also argues the money is being used for mental health counseling as an intervention before someone develops a substance use disorder, as well as recovery services.
He said the Mental Health Council is the best entity to decide on the use of these funds.
“If services were more accessible, they could reach more people in need,” Black said. “People are so deeply addicted that they don’t seek services until they hit rock bottom or a friend dies of an overdose. There is still a need for mental health counseling, addictions counseling and education. That’s the only thing that’s really missing nationally.
Black said the funding should also go towards mental health counselling, education and prevention at the middle and high school levels where kids are “more impressionable.”