Law enforcement and service providers described how funds to combat opioid addiction could best be used locally during a meeting with Congressman Rodney Davis and federal authorities at the Montgomery County Health Department on Thursday, March 29.
Those federal authorities included Anne Hazlett from Washington DC, who serves as assistant to the secretary for rural development at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, and Doug Wilson, Illinois' state director of USDA Rural Development.
"We have invested $4 billion in the last funding bill to try to root out the causes of opioid abuse," Congressman Davis said to a room that included Hugh Satterlee, Lynn Sellers and Kimber Deming from the health department, Undersheriff Rick Robbins, Hillsboro Police Chief Randy Leetham, Litchfield Mayor Steve Dougherty and MCEDC Executive Director Val Belusko. "We want to make sure the money helps solve the problem, and that's why we want to hear from you."
Their message? Make sure money can be used to combat all substance abuse and not just opioids.
"Heroin is still on our streets, but not like a year ago," Robbins said. "Users are back to meth. For us here, education is the issue so we don't go back to heroin. You can't just say, 'stick to methamphetamine,' so it has to be an overall drug prevention issue."
Robbins said that even at the height of heroin use in Montgomery County about a year and a half ago, dealers were scarce. Users had to travel to St. Louis to find dealers; now they are returning to more locally-available drugs.
Instead of the days of locally-produced meth, law enforcement officials said they are seeing signs of pre-manufactured meth imported from Mexico or Southern California and mailed from Colorado.
Synthetics, Robbins pointed out, are harder to prosecute. Drug makers try to stay a step ahead of the law and make synthetic drugs out of chemicals that are not "controlled substances."
"We have people who are dropping liquid synthetic Xanax on candy," Robbins said.
Leetham, speaking as police chief, said cocaine is making its way back into his jurisdiction again, and speaking as Montgomery County Coroner, said Fentanyl is causing more overdose deaths.
Deming, behavioral health director at the health department, said lack of in-patient options hampers substance abuse treatment.
"When someone decides they want treatment, they have to wait until a bed opens," Deming said. "Most of the time when they're willing, there isn't a bed open."
Sellers, who is the elder services program director at the health department, described instances of in-home healthcare workers stealing prescription painkillers from senior citizens, "and that senior can't go and get another prescription for 30 days."
Belusko spoke of the impact of the local economy on substance abuse and crime prevention, specifically referencing the idled Deer Run Mine and embattled Coffeen Power Station.
"If we lose another deputy, we'll probably have to pull out of the South Central Illinois Drug Task Force," Robbins said.