The Quad-City Times - July 20, 2016 | Original article

By Dan Petrella

SPRINGFIELD — Participants in drug court programs across Illinois will be allowed to use medication to combat opioid addiction under a new state law that will take effect Jan. 1.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a measure late last week that prevents judges from barring drug court participants from using medications such as methadone when prescribed by a doctor to treat opioid addiction. At the same time, Rauner signed another measure, also effective Jan. 1, requiring substance abuse programs licensed by the Illinois Department of Human Services to provide educational information on medication-based treatments and the use of anti-overdose drugs.

Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said the new laws are important steps in strengthening efforts to combat the state’s growing heroin- and opioid-addiction crisis.

The drug court bill in particular will ensure that people struggling with addiction have access to the most effective treatments, Kane-Willis said.

Drug courts are an alternative to jail or prison for people who have been convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. Participants make regular court appearances and undergo addiction treatment.

However, despite research showing the effectiveness of medication-based treatments, some courts have required participants to refrain using medications as a condition of completing the program, according to the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy.

“People have died as a result of being forced to get off of medication-assisted treatment to complete drug court,” Kane-Willis said.

Both laws were designed to fill in gaps in a major anti-opioid law the General Assembly passed last year with overwhelming bipartisan support. State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, was the lead sponsor of last year’s package and this year’s bills, and state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, shepherded them through the upper chamber.

“This is part of our continued shift toward treating drug addiction like what it is: A devastating health concern that becomes the root cause of other personal and societal ills,” Bush of the drug court bill in a prepared statement. “We want to ensure that there is no gap in doctor-prescribed medication for those trying to overcome addiction. We won’t deny someone the treatment they need.”

Dennis McGuire, deputy director of the drug court program in McLean County, said officials there will need to review and discuss the new law, but he doesn’t foresee it requiring any major changes.

“We’re going to rely on our treatment providers to come up with the best course of action on how to treat the individual client,” McGuire said.

There are currently about 40 people going through the program, which he said is reserved for “high-risk, high-need individuals.”

Read the original article at the Quad-City Times.

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