May 17, 2018

Leaders rethink how to reduce overdose deaths at ‘On the Table’ meeting

On the Table image

An intern in state Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s office looks at a naloxone dose distributed at On the Table event.

Robert Rebecca at table with participants

Robert Rebecca, manager of medication assisted treatment program at Heartland Health Centers, facilitated the event.




“I am a soccer mom …. But everywhere I went, I was treated like a junkie,” Heartland Health Centers patient Lilly Points told a group of community leaders and public officials at HHC-Devon May 8. She shared how she has maintained her goal of abstinence since starting medication-assisted treatment, MAT, for years now.

Points was among 18 “On the Table” conversation participants including Ald. James Cappleman, leaders of Chicago Recovery Alliance, representatives from state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky offices, as well as staff from Trilogy, Family Guidance Centers, Heartland Alliance Health,as well as Heartland Health Centers.

Over 90 minutes the group discussed harm reduction — with a goal of “any positive change” for a person who uses drugs — and abstinence, with the goal of reducing use to zero. Themes that threaded through the conversation included:

  • state Rep. Kelly Cassidy is currently sponsoring legislation that would give patients who’ve been prescribed opioids the option to substitute medical cannabis for their opioid prescription. Her staff also expressed interest in learning more about mobile medication-assisted treatment teams/ emergency room inductions.
  • The price of naloxone has increased with demand, which limits access. Current law also makes it hard to distribute naloxone in emergency rooms, where it could have a lifesaving impact. Staff from U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s office shared some ideas for one day using federal negotiating power to lower prices and ease distribution.
  • Dan Bigg and Suzanne Carlberg-Racich from Chicago Recovery Alliance distributed emergency naloxone kits (Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams recently began urging everyone to carry such kits).
  • There was a broad consensus in the room that patients and providers should have the right to choose what medication and treatment is best in individual cases–but stigma attached to drug use currently prevents this in some cases; many in the room expressed fear that stigma and cost concerns will lead to further limits on these choices.

This event was part of a statewide set of convenings hosted by the Kennedy Forum of Illinois based on an idea created by The Chicago Community Trust – On the Table. According to the Kennedy Forum, over 125 hosts engaged over 1,500 participants in conversations around mental health issues this May 8.