Mitchell: Budget impasse hurts substance abuse treatment

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There have been efforts to increase access to Naloxone, the life-saving antidote to a heroin overdose. | Getty Images

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One night last week, a cab driver named Kamil Shamji picked up a bad guy in Rogers Park.

After 35 years of safely driving around Chicago, Shamji was later found fatally shot inside his cab.

Within days, the Chicago police charged Lamon Weathers, 19, with first-degree murder. Still, the arrest must be of little comfort to Shamji’s family.

Given Chicago’s reputation as a hub for heroin trafficking, and how this crime unfolded, I suspect illegal drugs were somehow involved.

There have been a lot of crimes lately where I think to myself: “That person must have been hopped up on drugs.”

For instance, the men charged with the home invasion in southwest suburban Lyons must have been on something. The thieves led police on a chase all the way to Englewood for a bag of goods that wouldn’t have brought more than a couple of hundred dollars on the street.


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Recently, a lot of attention has been given to the efforts being made to prevent young people from dying from drug abuse.

Last week, Congressman Bob Dold introduced a bill that would give states grants to increase access to Naloxone, the life-saving antidote to a heroin overdose. In 2014, Lake County launched an aggressive program to fight heroin overdoses by equipping police officers with Naloxone.

That’s all good.

But we are falling short when it comes to treating drug addictions — and most often, it is addiction that is driving the crime.

Unfortunately, the continuing budget impasse in Springfield is having a deleterious affect on the agencies that provide substance abuse treatment.

“The impact on the portion of the budget still tied up for social services is roughly 10 percent. That has a significant impact on individual access of care,” said Dr. Dan Lustig, vice president of clinical services at Haymarket Center. Haymarket is the largest not-for-profit substance abuse treatment facility in Chicago.

Because of the ongoing budget stalemate, the state has not paid group providers since July 1. Agencies are getting by on federal funds that pass through the state. But as that funding is depleted, it will be more and more difficult to keep treatment programs open.

“Providers are closing programs or reducing slots available for patients to access care,” Lustig told me.

Most people know intuitively there is a strong correlation between crime and the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Of the 8,037 people locked up in the Cook County Jail, about 16 percent are there on a drug-related charge. And, of the 2.3 million inmates locked up in America’s prisons and jails, 1.3 million met the criteria for substance abuse or addiction.

Yet over the last 10 years, Illinois has consistently cut funding (for substance abuse treatment) to the tune of $100 million, Lustig said.

“Last week, we heard two clients released from the hospital overdosed and died because they couldn’t get into treatment,” he said.

I suspect more desperate addicts will be arrested.

A young PR specialist told me recently she was leaving a downtown restaurant after having dinner with friends when she felt someone walk up behind her. Before she could get out of the way, a woman grabbed her purse and ran off.

The thief probably got a fistful of dollars.

For addicts, substance abuse treatment is the only real antidote.

“This is a bipartisan issue,” Lustig said. “When people walk in for help, they need treatment and the budget impasse is restricting access.”

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