SPRINGFIELD | While lawmakers look for solutions to Illinois’ heroin problem, addiction specialists say the state isn’t providing them with enough funding.

The state’s rehabilitation centers say they’ve had to drastically cut programming due to continual underfunding, and that projected budget cuts will make the problem even worse.

“The heroin crisis was created by neglecting the prevention system and the treatment system,” said Sara Howe, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association. “Here we are continually cutting the system. Here we are with the possibility of eliminating the prevention system entirely.”

Alan Sender, chief operating officer for Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington, said it’s a constant struggle to get funding from the state.

“We’ve seen nothing to advance treatment in the state,” Sender said. “We seem to regularly fight a rearguard action in order to protect the level of funding we had the previous year. That’s particularly telling and particularly problematic for us in the field.”

If the temporary income tax were allowed to drop from 5 percent to 3.75 percent next year as scheduled, the Illinois Department of Public Health would lose $20 million in funding for its drug treatment programs.

IDHS estimates it would have to eliminate services for 15,922 people.

“This is going to move people into emergency rooms, the criminal justice system, and the child welfare system,” Howe said.

Sender said some providers simply wouldn’t survive the cut.

“There are some treatment providers who are talking about dissolving their organizations,” he said. “They’ve just reached the breaking point.”

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, started a task force to examine possible legislative efforts to help the state’s treatment system.

“It’s definitely going to be a problem moving forward,” Lang said. “Our state investment in prevention and treatment has gone down over the past few years, just as a lot of items have gone down.

“It’s clear that our diminished investment in prevention and treatment has come back to haunt us.”

Even if funding isn’t cut, Howe argued the state hasn’t provided sufficient funding for addiction services in years.

“Providers haven’t seen a rate increase in almost two decades,” she said. “They’re still being reimbursed at rates from 1990.”

IADDA estimates that from 2009 to 2011, funding cuts for addiction treatment and prevention have resulted in the loss of services for 27,000 people.

Sender said the state’s money would be better spent fighting substance abuse.

“We’re paying $23,000 to $24,000 a year to keep an individual in a state prison cell for one year, rather than increasing the amounts that are destined for treatment,” he said. “The irony there is that the average course of treatment runs $3,000 to $4,000.”

Lang hopes his new task force will help the state change course.

“We have to find a way to do better,” he said. “I think one of the functions of the task force will be to make progress on the issue. I’m hopeful that it will.”

Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.