DuPage awards $100,000 to nonprofit groups to help fight the opioid epidemic
As DuPage County faces a persistently high rate of opioid overdoses, a task force will award grants for nonprofit groups to expand access to addiction treatment for uninsured or low-income patients covered by Medicaid.
Formed about two years ago in response to the opioid crisis, the county task force for the first time last fall made $100,000 in funding available to community groups. County officials announced three recipients of the grants less than a week after a new report showed DuPage saw its second-deadliest year for opioid overdoses since 2012.
Last year, 96 people died from such overdoses, two fewer than in 2018. The death total in 2017 was 95.
"We have been seeking ways to reduce the devastating number of needless deaths experienced as a result of substance abuse disorder, especially due to opioid addiction," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
The Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education Taskforce, or HOPE, is a joint effort by the county board and county health department. It will divide the funds among the following:
• $50,000 for the DuPage Health Coalition, the parent organization of Access DuPage, a program that helps people without health insurance receive medical care.
The funds will allow the coalition to increase the number of emergency department physicians who are certified to administer medication-assisted treatment for patients with opioid use disorders. Those doctors will treat "individuals in DuPage regardless of their insurance or Medicare or Medicaid eligibility," said county board member Greg Hart, a task force co-chairman.
• $30,412 for the Access Community Health Network, a federally funded provider that operates nearly three dozen clinics in the Chicago area. The grant will allow the Access health center in West Chicago to expand medication-assisted treatment services.
• $19,588 for the Edward Foundation, the fundraising arm of Edward Hospital in Naperville. The grant will enable the foundation to create new peer support groups in DuPage.
So-called MAT services help ease withdrawal symptoms, and it's one treatment gap in the county, said Dr. Lanny Wilson, who also serves as a task force co-chairman.
"It really combines the psychology along with the medical therapy, so it's more of a holistic approach rather than just giving the medicine," he said.
The task force received 15 grant applications. A seven-member committee comprised of three health department staffers and four others reviewed 14 applicants. Officials would not explain why they determined one was ineligible.
"We received an amazing 15 applications, which is an incredible number for this being the first year where we accepted broader applications from the community," Hart said.
The committee scored the 14 eligible applications using a "detailed rubric" and recommended the applicants with the top three scores receive funding, Hart said. It was an "incredibly difficult decision, he said.
"We encourage all organizations to submit an application to continue to engage with the task force and apply in the future because there will be additional rounds of funding later on," Hart said.
The county board has pledged to set aside $100,000 annually for the task force. Last year, half of that funded a new specialty drug court for first-time offenders. The courtroom began operating in September 2019.
"That funding is just a portion of the $2.3 million DuPage County has committed to reduce substance abuse disorder among our residents, and it's money well-spent on programs that save lives," Cronin said.
In recent years, some county board candidates have called for more funding for the task force. But Wilson said the $100,000 provides "seed money."
"I want to approach this problem in a real thoughtful, deliberative way with experts and with experience in the field," Cronin said. "And as we go down this path, and as we see compelling need, and if the solution is devoting more resources to it, then fine. I'm open to that."
The task force includes specialists in mental health, substance abuse treatment and law enforcement. The group focuses on five areas: reducing access to drugs; reducing opioid use and misuse; increasing overdose response; integrating mental health and substance use disorder treatment and recovery; and continuing substance abuse prevention and education.