MARION -- It was truly a meeting of the minds last Thursday at the Marion Pavilion as nearly 200 people turned out for an opioid/substance misuse conference aimed at fighting the nation's growing epidemic.
"It's just as bad in Southern Illinois as in the rest of the country," said Scott Hesseltine, the vice president of addiction services for Centerstone, who was the keynote speaker for the event.
In fact, Hesseltine said that his base in Kentucky is third in the nation in overdose deaths.
"We're in the epicenter (of the crisis)," he said. "We're starting to see a resurgence of methamphetamines and other drugs."
Hesseltine said that treatment is just one part of the process.
"Today is about being part of a larger initiative where employers and behavioral health providers come together to look at workforce impacts, economic impacts, and recovery needs as it relates to the community as it relates to the opioid epidemic and larger addiction crisis," he said.
Hesseltine said that people from all areas of society must come together to find a common solution to the problem.
"Critical success factors like safe and structured housing, evidence-based treatment services, of course, and also the dignity of work, working with employers that are supportive of recovery and the needs of individuals who are in recovery."
Hesseltine said part of that success is in helping the community to understand that addiction is not a "moral failing, it's a chronic condition that requires involvement from medical and mental health professionals as well as community partners."
Hesseltine says that generally, those receiving help are more productive than their counterparts.
"We know nationally that $400 billion in lost productivity can be tied to opioid use disorder and substance use disorder," he said. "Individuals that are employed that are in recovery are 10 percent more likely to be in good attendance than the general population, so you have better attendance and less absenteeism."
Williamson County State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti was pleased to be a part of the effort.
"I was honored to be asked to speak at the Opioid Abuse Prevention Conference and discuss efforts by regional law enforcement to combat the terrible opioid epidemic that is plaguing our communities," he said. "Fighting this crisis is a community effort, and it cannot be won by law enforcement alone. I applaud all the groups and individuals present at the conference who want to learn more so they can take a stand in this fight."
Hesseltine said his job will be to create a concrete action plan to move forward based on the collaborative efforts of those at the conference.
"We have to create recovery-oriented workplaces and offer help with things like housing," he said, adding that the next steps will target individual communities and businesses.