The opioid epidemic experienced another alarming upsurge, as the federal Centers for Disease Control recently released a report that shows an 66 percent spike in opioid overdose cases at Illinois emergency rooms, and an upward trend across the country.
Several lawmakers also ventured to Chicago during the week for Senate committee and task force hearings on trending issues in state government, including the Legionella outbreaks, sexual harassment and firearms.
In light of new data reports, the joint Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees held another hearing to resume their conversations on the Quincy Veterans’ Home with testimony from the Illinois Department of Public Health Director, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director and the Capital Development Board Ethics Officer.
Recent tragedies and cases of violence have spurred more talks of public safety reforms in Springfield. During the week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Firearms held a hearing in Chicago to discuss legislative initiatives involving gun sales and possession that are currently under consideration by the General Assembly.
Lastly, the Senate Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Awareness and Prevention met to hear testimony on sexual harassment in the private sector.
Opioid overdose emergency room visits in Illinois spike 66 percent
More light was shed on the state’s sweeping opioid epidemic, as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that last year Illinois emergency rooms experienced a 66 percent spike in opioid overdoses.
Illinois is not alone in the surge. Opioid-related emergency room visits increased by an average of 35 percent across 16 states—heavily impacting Midwestern states and metropolitan areas. The impact affects the city and suburbs alike, and crosses age groups from youth to middle-aged users.
Legislation seeking to address the widespread prescribing, use and abuse of opioids is moving through the General Assembly. Late last year, a measure was signed (SB 772) requiring prescribers with an Illinois Controlled Substance License to register with and use the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), a database that records patient prescription history. The PMP allows physicians to check previous patient prescriptions and requests for controlled substances. Increasing the required checkpoints in advance of prescribing controlled substances will cut down on “doctor-shopping,” the practice of patients obtaining opioid prescriptions from multiple physicians.
Given the upward trend of the use of the deadly opioid combination, fentanyl-laced heroin, the Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the hike in opioid overdoses was not unexpected, and the numbers further reinforce the need for government to work with health care, community-based organizations and specialists to find solutions to reverse the epidemic. One of his recommendations moving forward was to increase access for medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid abuse to help lessen the symptoms of withdrawal.
In addition to the presence of heroin, hospitals and law enforcement should also stay alert to the shift from heroin use to strong and potentially fatal synthetic opioids including fentanyl and carfentanil—a substance 5,000 times more potent than heroin.
Conversations resume with new data on Legionella at Quincy Veterans’ Home
The Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees met for the fourth time to resume their conversations with new data about the outbreaks and sequence of events at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy. The meeting took place at the Bilandic Building in Chicago on March 5.
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Nirav Shah, Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) Director Erica Jeffries and Capital Development Board Ethics Officer Amy Romano joined the members to address their questions and concerns.
In response to why the IDVA did not replace the Home’s plumbing system after the outbreak, Jeffries said the alternative solution to eradicate the Legionella bacteria—with minimal disruption to the residents and better use of tax dollars—was to install a new water treatment system.
Jeffries also discussed preliminary, long-term plans for the 210-acre campus, which could involve the demolition and construction of brand new buildings in the next five years, but would have to temporarily relocate the 350 residents once work is underway. In the interim, all the faucets and water filters have been replaced campus-wide, and the Home tests the water supply daily for any presence of Legionella bacteria.
The Veterans Affairs Committee will continue to meet to discuss the ongoing efforts at the Quincy Veterans’ Home.
Task Force hears testimony of sexual harassment
The Senate Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Awareness and Prevention met for a very sensitive matter that involves an open investigation on sexual harassment at a multinational company.
The Task Force heard firsthand testimony from private sector employees, including hospitality industry workers who were instrumental in passing Chicago’s “panic button” ordinance for hotel workers. In response to incidents of hotel employees being assaulted, groped, and propositioned while interacting with guests, the ordinance was passed to require hotels to provide panic buttons to all employees who work alone in guest rooms or other areas, and required hotel to develop, maintain and comply with a policy prohibiting sexual harassment.
The objective of the Task Force is to help ensure that every woman and man feels safe in their work environment—and comfortable filing complaints if their safety is violated. The members use testimony to analyze the issues and illegal activities workers face within the private and public sectors to determine what types of proposed changes and legislation will be needed to reduce and eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Subcommittee on Firearms discuss pending gun reforms
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Firearms held their first hearing on March 8 to focus on legislative initiatives involving gun sales and possession.
The subject matter hearing reviewed and heard testimony on five House Bills currently under consideration by the General Assembly.
House Bill 1465 would ban the sale and delivery of assault weapons and high capacity magazines—devices capable of holding more than the standard rounds of ammunition—to anyone younger than 21 years of age, and would prohibit the possession of such weapons and devices for those younger than the age requirement. The legislation provides 90 days for anyone violating the age requirement for assault weapons and high capacity magazines to transfer ownership or dispose of the items.
House Bill 1467 would ban the sales, manufacturing, purchase and possession of “bump stocks,” a device attachment that allows a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster, and “trigger cranks,” a device that can pull a trigger more quickly than a human could. The bill would set the penalty for the possession of these items as the same level as possession of an actual machine gun.
House Bill 1468 would require a 72-hour waiting period for assault weapons following purchase, which includes certain semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, semi-automatic pistols, and .50 caliber rifles, as current Illinois law requires a 72-hour waiting period for handguns and a 24-hour waiting period for long guns. Additionally, it would ban the sale of these firearms to non-residents at gun shows.
House Bill 1469, in honor of fallen public servant Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer, would ban large capacity ammunition feeding devices—which can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition—as well as body armor for civilians. Both devices were used by the assailant in the attack on Bauer at the James Thompson Center—ultimately resulting in the Commander’s death.
House Bill 1664 would require the Illinois State Police to provide a Dangerous Persons Hotline, a website and a toll-free number, for individuals to notify the Department if someone is a clear and present danger to himself or herself or another person and in possession of firearms.
Legislative session resumes for the Senate on March 13, where discussions and debate on gun reforms will likely continue.