Kane County Board candidates weighed in on whether the county’s response to the opioid crisis has been adequate during a League of Women Voters of Central Kane County candidates forum Sept. 27 at the Geneva Public Library.
That was one of the questions asked of candidates participating in the forum. Participants were Democrat William Tarver and incumbent Republican David Brown, both of Batavia, for District 10; Democrat Leslie Juby and Republican Brian Jones, both of Geneva, for District 11; Democrat Steve Bruesewitz and Bill Roth, both of St. Charles, for District 12; Republican incumbent Todd Wallace and Democrat Michael Linder, both of St. Charles, for District 13; and Republican incumbent Mark Davoust and Democrat Tom Hodge, both of St. Charles, for District 14.
Last year, there were 63 fentanyl deaths in the county. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Along with being asked if the Kane County Board’s response to the opioid crisis has been adequate, they were asked if the county is assessing the impact of the crisis and using available state and federal funds to address the crisis.
“You can obviously do better when you are faced with a crisis,” Juby said in response. “I’m not sure exactly the dollars that are being put into those programs. But I know that in my time on the Geneva School Board, we had a mantra, you can always do better. And so I think the county can do better.”
Jones said access to quality mental health services is of great importance.
“Like anything, I think you need to measure the response and evaluate the effect that you’re having,” he said. “Clearly, there’s still a problem, so I think that needs to be addressed.”
For Bruesewitz, the opioid crisis hits home.
“My own sister lost a daughter-in-law to fentanyl and, as a result, ended up being a 60-year-old woman raising a 6-year-old child,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing and we need to do as much as we can to help. This is part of the mental health crisis I think that stems from the COVID-19 problem. It affected everybody and mental health experts around the nation agree that things are in bad shape.”
Roth said “one death is one too many.”
“We need to adopt best practices that are used across the country that address the issue,” he said. “We need to get the deaths down where it’s not an epidemic anymore.”
Linder noted the opioid crisis is not just confined to Kane County.
“We are having continual problems across the nation,” he said. “Our health department is uniquely stressed by COVID. We have not always been able to fully staff our health department because of the amount of turnover we have. The salaries our low. We need to do some things to help there. But the Kane County Board has allocated a lot of that American Rescue Plan money to mental health and to the community agencies that deal with those things. And I think that’s an important start.”
Wallace said he thinks that one of the great things Kane County has going for it is “our rich collection of private health care providers as well as nonprofit organizations.”
“I think one of the best things the county can do is to coordinate and utilize those services and try to be the one that takes a leadership role in figuring out how to fight this epidemic,” he said.
Davoust said the county has been addressing the issue.
“We have great people in our health department,” he said. “We have a coroner who’s way ahead of the curve on requesting Narcan. We do public outreach in every way we can. And we sought and secured counsel to be part of the opioid settlement. Again, you’ve got really great people working for you on the staff at Kane County. This is something that they are aware of and they are working on it. Yes, there’s still more to be done and we’re going to stay after it.”
Narcan (naloxone) nasal spray is used along with emergency medical treatment to reverse the life-threatening effects of a known or suspected opiate narcotic overdose in adults and children.
Hodge agreed there is a lot of work being done now to address the issue. Kane County in August joined other counties in filing a lawsuit against several big-name pharmacies, pinning blame on them for the nation’s opioid crisis.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 15, alleges the companies failed to monitor and restrict the sale of opioid medication to its customers, used a “deliberate marketing strategy” to encourage the use of opioids and intentionally evaded restrictions on the medications’ sale.
While Hodge noted much work is taking place to address the problem, he said more needs to be done.
“This just doesn’t hit any economic group or any age group, it hits all over the place. And it is a terrifying thing and I talk to my children about it all the time,” Hodge said.
Brown agreed the opioid crisis is a serious problem.
“It is something that our health department and all of our departments are working on,” he said. “As a board, we all work with them together. We try to get them whatever money we can. And as Mr. Davoust said, we did hire a legal firm to go after the settlement and that’s looking very, very favorable. When we get that money, that money is going to go right to the health department and the sheriff’s office and such.”
Tarver said the county isn’t doing enough in addressing the opioid crisis.
“I am a mental health professional and I work in schools,” he said. “I see what’s happening. I can tell you from working and volunteering with Suicide Prevention Services in Batavia, they don’t have enough resources. We need to get additional funding to those organizations. We need to help the sheriff’s office do the work that they do. First responders, they’re the people who are responding to these actions and we need to be more supportive. Kane County is doing some great work, but they need some more support.”