Rural community college helps open conversation about opioid crisis

Overdose deaths in the United States are at an all-time high. There were over 100,000 overdose deaths in the United States from December 2020 to December 2021.

LaSalle County has one of the highest overdose death rates in Illinois. It also has high rates of opioid-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

But, even in the face of these statistics, the opioid crisis is still often portrayed as a secret hidden in plain sight. Illinois Valley Community College’s recent “One Book, One College” project attempted to expose this secret.

Jayna Leipart Guttilla is the College’s Collections, Development, and Access Librarian. She helped organize this year’s “One Book” initiative focusing on Eric Eyre’s “Death in Mud Lick” book, which illustrates how opioids took over a West Virginia mining community.

The book was a jumping off point to dive into conversations about when the outbreak started and what it looks like in Illinois. Leipart Guttilla calls it less a book club than a set of community meetings with students, professors and experts.

“We are an hour away from any other [higher] educational institution. So we are reaching a lot of people in rural areas, way more than I initially thought,” she said. “You read about the opioid epidemic, but what does it mean? They are just words on a page. When you hear the stories of families of loved and cared for people who have passed away, it really takes on another dimension.

CCSVI has partnered with local risk reduction and recovery organization “Perfectly Flawed”. Its founder, Luke Tomsha, was an injection drug user for over 14 years and is now trying to create a safe place for people navigating addiction or on the road to recovery.

“There’s so much stigma around substance use, and we’ve criminalized drug addicts,” he said. “For so long we have criminalized human behavior when in fact we were meant to support people in difficulty.”

This perception of people with substance use disorders is why Tomsha says education is so vital. And creating an empathetic environment with IVCC for the community to share their experiences made “One Book” all the more impactful.

Lori Brown also joined the college project. She is the founder of “Buddy’s Purpose”, an overdose awareness group she started after losing her son to an overdose. Tina Hardy, of the IVCC Center for Accessibility and Neurodiversity, says hearing from Lori and Luke has inspired others to talk about their and their family’s experiences with addictive behavior.

“We asked one of our nurse educators to come forward and tell her story which she said she really didn’t tell,” Hardy said. “I thought it was really remarkable of him to come out and post this publicly. But I think it also helps our students, in the long run, to appreciate who we have here and maybe foster some bonding. narrower.

She said it was a challenge to get the students involved, especially when they first started and the events were mostly online, but ultimately the students asked some really good questions. This helped “Death in Mud Lick” author Eric Eyre to contact the Illinois Valley and participate in their analysis of his book.

Conversations around “Death In Mud Lick” led to a discussion of issues such as unethical prescribing practices. It hit near my house. In 2018, a LaSalle County doctor was sentenced to 12 years in prison for illegally distributing opioids.

But with a crisis with so many layers, they couldn’t cover it all. Tomsha says ongoing training is crucial.

“There are so many racial disparities in the war on drugs that we haven’t even addressed in the book,” he said. “In predominantly white communities, we may not think it affects us, but it does.”

This spring, Governor JB Pritzker unveiled an “overdose action plan” to limit opioid overdoses. Tomsha was one of the few people with lived experience on the state’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Recovery Steering Committee who made recommendations for the report.

Now, he says, it’s about implementation and more education on issues like the supply of fentanyl-tainted drugs, harm reduction techniques and life-saving drugs like naloxone.

Even though Illinois Valley’s “One Book, One College” project on “Death In Mud Lick” is over, Jayna Leipart Guttilla says the conversations can’t stop.

“It affects more people than you think. It definitely affects my family members,” she said. “And it’s not something I would necessarily want to talk about. But I felt so empowered by the work we did. I was truly honored to have the space to discuss these issues that affect people and have nothing to be ashamed of.

Tomsha says anyone using substances, seeking help or treatment can find Perfectly Flawed’s text and hotline at perfectflawed.org.

About Keneth T. Graves

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