Forum addresses opioid abuse in McHenry County as numbers continue to climb

Rep. Bill Foster, county leaders talk to residents about where things stand, what’s being done

Attendees listen at a opioid abuse town hall hosted by Congressman Bill Foster, D- Naperville, March 23, 2024.

Earlier this month, the McHenry County Department of Health put out a news release saying the amount of suspected overdose deaths in the county has continued to climb.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, whose district has a large footprint in the county alongside panelists Taylor Ceron of the McHenry County health department and Judy Pasternack of Northwestern Medicine, spoke about where things stand on the fight against opioid abuse in the county at a forum Saturday in Crystal Lake.

Foster, who on March 19 won the Democratic Party primary to run for reelection, said Saturday was the third town hall event he has hosted on substance abuse disorder and touched on some of the initiatives he’s working on in Congress to combat the opioid crisis. Last month, Foster introduced legislation to get the Government Accountability Office to “evaluate and report on the capacity of outpatient and inpatient programs across the country” according to his website. He said last year he introduced the Expanding Opportunities for Recovery Act, which he said would provide grants to states to expand medication-assisted treatment. Medication-assisted treatment is the use of medicine alongside counseling and behavioral therapies in treating opioid use disorders, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.

“This is not something that’s mysterious and just a built-in flaw in people,” Foster said about opioid addiction. “Once we understand it, there’s hope for more and more effective treatments.”

Ceron shared statistics about opioid overdoses and said the McHenry County Coroner’s Office reported 50 overdose deaths in the county last year. According to the coroner’s office, nine suspected overdoses have occurred in McHenry County in 2024.

The panelists touched on how addiction is often stigmatized, and Pasternack said babies who were born with addictions used to be taken away from their families. Now, however, babies born with substance addictions stay with the parents.

“What a change in stigma,” Pasternack said.

Ceron noted it’s common for people in more rural areas to be reluctant to acknowledge the opioid issue, and said, “It takes a lot longer to kind of fight the stigma in [more] rural parts of the country.”

Ceron also talked about initiatives the health department has worked on to try to combat the opioid crisis in the county, including Narcan vending machines installed last year, and said, “We’ve had a really good reception” to the machines.

Foster later asked about the vending machines, and Ceron said they are very basic, and the health department officials didn’t want people to have to give information in order to use the machine since they thought that could be a deterrent.

Foster said the opioid crisis is “still ongoing” but there are “reasons to be hopeful.”

“A big part of it is just talking about it and getting the word out,” Foster said, “and getting the stigma reduced. I think that’s the biggest thing we can do, plus getting some federal money to everyone who’s trying to provide assistance.”

Claire O'Brien

Claire O'Brien is a reporter who focuses on Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Woodstock, Marengo and the McHenry County Board. Feel free to email her at