QUINCY -- U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price met Thursday with several Adams County officials who come face-to-face with the opioid epidemic daily, saying it's a battle being lost across the country.
Price declined to say whether a national public health emergency should be declared -- as President Donald Trump's Opioid Commission recently suggested -- but said it is "something we are taking very seriously."
Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore said Price did "more listening than talking" during a roundtable discussion at Quincy Medical Group that was also attended by U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, Adams County Emergency Management Agency Director John Simon, Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley, law enforcement and health care representatives, and other community stakeholders.
Price said curbing the opioid epidemic is one of the Trump Administration's "top three priorities."
An orthopedic physician and former medical director of the Orthopedic Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Ga., Price was nominated in November by Trump to serve as HHS secretary and was confirmed in February.
"It's got our attention, and it has the president's attention," Price said, noting that 52,000 Americans and 1,835 Illinoisans died of overdoses in 2015. "We're working as diligently as we can to move in a better direction."
Price outlined a five-point strategy to combat the epidemic: identifying ways to prevent and treat addiction, expanding the availability of overdose-reversing drugs, answering why addiction is taking a hold across the country, conducting addiction research and identifying non-addictive pain medication, and addressing the way pain is treated to decrease the availability of opioids and identifying non-addictive treatments.
"We hear parts of that strategy are being worked on in Quincy," he said.
Simon and Copley used the roundtable to discuss their increased reliance on the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone.
"We've doubled the amount of narcan (naloxone) that we carry over the last several years," Simon said. "We've administered narcan 44 times through July 1. I look back to when I was a paramedic working the streets in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and it was very much a rarity to administer narcan. We've gone from a couple of uses a year to 44 in the first seven months."
A recurring theme in the roundtable was the need for communication across state lines in the tri-state area, Simon said.
"We're in that unique setting, a close border to Iowa, Missouri and Illinois," Simon said. "There are processes in place where that information can be shared. Everybody has their part of the puzzle here."
LaHood said his focus will be on identifying resources for inpatient treatment and finding a balance between treating pain and overprescribing.
"It's also about figuring out how we change people's history," he said. "If you have been treated (with) addictive pain medicine in another state, we should be able to have access to that here. That's one of the biggest issues, people going across state lines. We see that here in the tri-state area."
LaHood said stemming the epidemic, which kills more people than car accidents, will take a combination of local and federal resources.
"It's law enforcement, it's narcan, it's reining in doctors and it's working with our treatment providers," LaHood said.
Price and LaHood also toured the Adams County 9-1-1 Call Center, introducing themselves to employees and listening to the challenges the center faces.