PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – It’s a growing problem that is showing no signs of slowing down.
State lawmakers said fentanyl-related overdoses are spiking throughout the nation, the state, and it’s trickling down to Central Illinois communities.
The spiking concern, which is claiming numerous lives, is prompting legislation on the state level. Lawmakers said laced narcotics are leaving a trail of bodies throughout the country.
House Republican leader Tony McCombie (Savanna) said drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths among Illinoisans ages 18-49.
“This is not unusual, it’s happening everywhere in every state we’re seeing increases of fatal overdoses,” Chris Schaffner, program director at JOLT Harm reduction in Peoria, said.
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said so far five people in Peoria County have died from overdoses this year. This issue killed more than 42 people in Peoria County in 2022.
Many of the latest deaths had one key common dominator in their system, fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger the heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine,” McCombie said.
Local activists said when fentanyl is not used in a clinical setting, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Schaffner said they’re finding many street drugs that contain more than just fentanyl.
“There’s benzodiazepine, there’s tranquilizers, there’s sedatives, there’s maybe other opioids that are mixed with it and that all increases the risk of overdose,” Schaffner said.
McCombie said she’s hoping to mitigate the risk of overdoses with House Bill 3203. The bill would allow pharmacies and retailers to sell fentanyl testing strips over the counter. It would also allow health departments to distribute them for free.
“As lawmakers we have a moral obligation to do something when we see a problem as deep as this one,” McCombie said.
Schaffner said he’s on board with the initiative.
“More often than not people don’t know what’s in the drug supply so they just purchase whatever they think they need and it could be adulterated with a lot of other things,” Schaffner said. “So being able to have a tool that empowers you to know what’s in it, also empowers you to make safer choices about how you consume it, if you decide to consume it.”
Schaffner said he believes bad drug policy is driving up overdoses more than fentanyl. He also said the current way of fighting the drug epidemic isn’t working as the drug supply changes and is becoming more powerful and dangerous.
He’s hoping for the passing of more legislation such as one currently pushing for safe consumption centers where medical experts can monitor people who are using.
McCombie said House Bill 3203 unanimously passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee last week and she’s hoping the bipartisan effort will move forward.