Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order this week that will launch new initiatives to fight the ongoing opioid crisis, including measures that could bring supervised consumption sites to the state. The executive order signed by the governor on Monday also includes provisions to address the racial inequities that exist in overdose deaths.

“This executive order begins an effort to achieve social equity as we work to end the opioid crisis in Illinois,” wrote Pritzker in a press release. “We will coordinate innovative, evidence-based approaches in partnership with harm-reduction organizations, establish local systems of care in disproportionately impacted communities, and create a comprehensive statewide opioid plan.”

Under the order, Illinois will dedicate $4.1 million to expand recovery and prevention services for individuals with opioid use disorder, including funding for four supervised consumption sites. The sites will have staff on hand to provide referrals to recovery services, ensure that visitors are using clean needles, and summon medical help in the event of an emergency.

Wiley Jenkins, the chief of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, said that supervised consumption sites can help people who are addicted to opiates until they are ready to seek recovery services, a step that for many is difficult to take.

“The idea is that they are trapped in position, like many people are with other types of addiction,” Jenkins said. “And we should try to help them navigate their addiction as best we can so that they don’t die.”

“As a public health practitioner, one of my biggest goals with working with individuals who misuse opioids and are frequently addicted is, very honestly, to keep them alive long enough that they may seek recovery,” Jenkins added.

Order Addresses Racial Disparities

Pritzker also praised the state’s first reduction in opioid deaths in five years, although the statement from the governor’s office acknowledged that the overall improvement included a 9.1% increase in opioid-related deaths for African Americans and a 4.3% increase among Latinos. Deaths among whites decreased by 7%.

“Illinois has made great strides in responding to the opioid crisis that has swept the nation, but our work won’t be done until all our residents have the opportunity to live their most fulfilling lives,” said Pritzker.

The order directs the governor’s office and the state’s Opioid Crisis Response Advisory Council to create an Opioid Social Equity Committee to make policy recommendations regarding how to address social and racial disparities in the response to the opioid crisis. They will also establish local recovery-oriented systems of care councils in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis in an effort to connect with and engage individuals in all stages of recovery.

Last year, Pritzker signed the Overdose Prevention and Harm Reduction Act, which also focuses on harm reduction and allows for the establishment and operation of needle exchange programs to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Under the executive order announced on Monday, an additional $500,000 will be invested in those programs.

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