Smile Politely

The toll road of denial is a long and dangerous one, Elaine

In recent weeks this column has been a little negative. Issues of race, income disparity in relation to education, and the relationship our communities have with police have been at the forefront. They’re major issues that affect this community and it’s important to discuss potential ways to change the system.

With that said, this community and the businesses here are also highly capable of affecting positive social change without an online magazine lambasting them. Carle, despite controversy surrounding their relationship with Urbana, is one of those businesses. The hospital has been proactive in working with Champaign County over the last year or so in working on a drug rehabilitation program that has an opportunity to make a great impact in this area.

Heroin, and the complications related to it, has affected Central Illinois. According to, heroin abuse has risen nationally over the past decade or so. The National Center for Health Statistics has reported that overdose deaths have quadrupled from 2000-2013. There were 916 overdose deaths in Illinois in 2014, and 11 of those occurred in Champaign County. There was just one heroin-related death in 2013. While that number might not seem huge, the increase is significant enough to warrant concern. It may not be a zombie apocalypse-type event, where once one person in a group is infected everyone else in the group will be too. But the concern should lie with how to help that person so that their struggles do not become fatal. The affects of an overdose death on friends, family, and acquaintances can’t be overstated.

I’m from the Chicago suburbs and I floated amongst different groups of friends. Without ever seeing the stuff in its pure form, I know that heroin has affected those groups of friends differently. I lost a grade school pal to an overdose a few years ago. Two upper-middle class friends that I’d spent years playing hockey with are gone from my life due to overdoses. Brothers who left behind children. It’s a terrible addiction that leaves a crazy amount of destruction in its wake. That destruction is on the doorstep to many in Champaign County.

Carle is working with the Prairie Center addictions treatment agency and the Champaign Country drug court to launch a program revolving around Vivitrol. Vivitrol is the brand name, extended-release injectable version of Naltrexone, a drug that’s typically used to manage alcohol dependence and opioid dependence.

While most of the details of the program are fairly scarce, the bottom line is that eligible participants will be selected heroin addicts sentenced to drug court. They’ll be monitored for their addiction and administered Vivitrol once a month for six months while also getting treatment through Prairie Center.

Vivitrol is a monthly injection that has to be administered by a doctor and it remains in the body throughout that month. The drug reduces cravings and blocks the pleasure effects of heroin, morphine, and other addictive opioids. There are some issues, as with any drug, and these mostly relate to the fact that it’s easier to overdose on heroin while utilizing this treatment and, of course, cost.

It’s $1,200 per injection and most who have been affected by heroin addiction cannot afford it. The prohibitive cost is akin to dangling an unreachable carrot in front of a starving rabbit.

Fortunately, Carle is stepping up to the plate by piloting a program with Vivitrol that would see them contribute $81,300 to help cover medication and lab costs while the drug maker Alkermes Inc. is reducing the price for up to 30 participants in the program.

It’s important to remind ourselves that this program won’t be a magic fix for every patient, but that the community is making the right step in curbing an issue that affects families, the justice system, and really, the entire community.

Carle, Champaign County, and the Prairie Center deserve kudos for identifying an issue and making an effort to address it. This is something that could have easily been caught up in bureaucracy or legislation, but instead, is ready to act. Today I’m proud of our community and hope that we continue to make strides to help people in need. $81,300 may not be a lot of money to Carle, but if this program is supported and succeeds, there’s no reason that they wouldn’t provide more to make sure that this community has what it needs to help and rehab those who need it.

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