Heroin Crisis in Illinois

HB 1, which was drafted with the active participation of law enforcement, contains numerous changes to State and local programs aimed at heroin and other opiate drugs. The bill strengthens the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, creates a program to move towards universal availability of heroin-overdose-reversal medications (opioid antagonists) in the hands of first responders and in the formularies of health insurance policies, enhances criminal penalties for “prescription shopping,” expands Medicaid to cover opioid dependence medications and opioid antagonists, and makes other changes.

The bill was drafted by the House Bipartisan Heroin Crisis Task Force, a special House committee that held many hearings on opiate drugs and opiate addiction issues.  The Task Force heard emotional testimony from the families of loved ones who had overdosed on opiate drugs.  After the bill was sent to the Governor’s desk for final action, Gov. Rauner wrote an amendatory veto to remove sections of the bill that had implications for the State’s budget and taxpayers.  The amendatory veto would have reduced costs to the Medicaid program by removing medication-assistant treatment for alcohol or opioid dependence, and cutting out opioid antagonists.

Some budget experts saw the Governor’s amendatory veto as a reasonable response to the State’s budget crisis.  However, Speaker Madigan made it clear that the amendatory veto motion would not be called and that the House would have to cast an up-or-down vote on the original bill as passed by both houses of the General Assembly.  The House voted 105-5-0 to override the Governor’s veto on Wednesday, September 2.  The measure now moves to the Illinois Senate for another override vote and possible final action.

Illinois will also test pilot program to place locking devices on prescription vials.  The pilot program is aimed at vials containing Schedule II controlled substances.  These include opiate medications such as hydrocodone, found in widely-prescribed painkillers such as Vicodin.  Strong analgesics are blamed for widespread growth among some Americans in opiate tolerance, which can progress in some cases to drug addiction.  The pilot program was announced on Saturday, August 29 by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Under the program, a vial containing prescription medication is transferred with a special cap containing a four-digit combination lock.  Dialing in the proper combination will be necessary before the vial cap can be unsealed and the vial opened.  This will be a pilot program for one year, and only certain participating pharmacies will dispense eligible drugs in combination-sealed vials.  The pilot program is scheduled to begin on January 1, 2016.  It will be operated by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation as part of its overall regulation of the pharmaceutical professions.  

The bill to create this program, HB 3219, became law through Governor Rauner’s signature on Thursday, August 27.  Lead co-sponsors included House Republican Reps. Michael McAuliffe and Christine Winger.