By addressing the Regional Opioid Crisis: The expansion of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) services

To address the growing number of Lake County residents struggling with opioid addictions, the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center is doubling the capacity of its Medication-Assisted Treatment program. It is expanding treatment to 200 people struggling with opioid addictions through a grant of $325,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“The expansion of our MAT program is an essential next step in the regional effort to address the opioid epidemic, which has had a devastating impact on local families and their communities,” said Mark Pfister, the Health Department’s interim Executive Director.  “The expansion of this program is imperative to helping people change addictive behaviors for the long-term.”

The population of residents in need of substance abuse services has substantially increased in Lake County in alignment with national trends. In 1998, the county had 30 deaths that were attributed to substance abuse.  By 2010, that number had more than tripled to 92. Opioid related deaths in 2008 were 47 and increased in 2015 to 58. Heroin-related deaths in 2008 were 30 and increased in 2015 to 42.

 For decades, the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center has been the primary provider of substance abuse services for residents in the county. Its services include screening brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT), in-patient detox and rehabilitation services, outpatient substance abuse counseling, medication-assisted treatment and women’s residential services. It established an Outpatient Substance Abuse program in the 1970s to address a growing population of residents with substance abuse concerns. The program provided both drug-free treatment as well as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using methadone and Suboxone to treat opioid addiction.

In 2014 the Health Department, in concert with the Lake County Opioid Initiative (LCOI), began an initiative to save people who had overdosed on opioids.  The Health Department’s actions included:

  • Instructing law enforcement officers on how to administer naloxone, a drug that temporarily reverses the effect of an opioid to people who had overdosed, using a train the trainer approach.
  • Securing a donation of $1.4 million of auto-injectable naloxone from Virginia-based kaléo, enough for police officers across Lake County to carry the product in their squad cars. The first save occurred on Christmas day of 2014 and since then there have been more than 90 lives saved. Officers of 39 local police departments as well as the Sheriff’s Office now carry naloxone in their cars.
  • Providing free naloxone training to patients and friends and family members of patients, and to nurses in school settings.

In addition to the increase of treatment slots for the MAT program, the Substance Abuse Program (SAP) at 3004 Grand Avenue in Waukegan has been designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) allowing the Health Department to bill for the services it provides. This is critical to supporting the long term sustainability of the program. The 3004 location will become the Health Department’s ninth health center. Through the HRSA grant and the FQHC designation, the program will be able to:

  • Provide prescriptions for methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol along with primary care, substance abuse counseling and supportive services
  • Increase medical provider hours
  • Add substance abuse counselors
  • Add a licensed clinical social worker to act as a care manager

The Health Department will continue to provide information and training to providers and members of law enforcement as it increases its prevention efforts in response to this public health crisis. Continuing to educate providers will be critical in curbing the increase in addiction locally, regionally, and nationally.  Countywide collaborations continue to help address the immediate needs of residents and will continue to help shape the agency’s response.  The expansion of MAT would not be possible without partnerships, especially the Health Department’s collaboration with the Lake County Opioid Initiative, Nicasa, and others.  To inquire about registering for the MAT program, call: (847) 377-8120.