“We know it’s very expensive, and we know we continue to see these patients,” says MacNeal, Mercyhealth’s emergency medical services director.
Compared to Chicago, the opioid crisis looks different in rural Illinois. There are fewer doctors in general, and those who do have practices are spread out. This has potentially contributed to the flurry of opioids: If doctors know patients can’t come back every few days to refill their prescriptions, they sometimes prescribe more pills at a time. Rural areas also have fewer physical therapists to help patients manage pain without narcotics. Residents have more factory and farm jobs than desk jobs, potentially making them more prone to injury, notes Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Springfield-based Memorial Health System, which has hospitals big and small in rural and suburban areas, hasn’t been financially hit hard by the opioid crisis, says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rajesh Govindaiah. “But we are seeing plenty of negative impacts in our community,” he says.
To combat them, Memorial physicians now use a statewide online prescribing system to track their patients’ medication patterns.
Still, there’s a major obstacle. Even if a person survives an overdose in Illinois, there’s a shortage of outpatient care clinics to help them kick the habit.
Health care providers can’t act fast enough. State officials project that in 2020, the opioid epidemic will kill more than 2,700 Illinoisans—a nearly 40 percent spike from the 1,946 overdose deaths in 2016.