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Lawmakers push bill to give social workers access to opioid antagonist

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(The Center Square) – Illinois legislators are pushing for measures to help social workers deal with overdoses and to attract more people to the field.

Now in the Illinois House, Senate Bill 3779 would allow a clinical social worker or social worker to possess and administer naloxone, an opioid antagonists.

In the past decade, state Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, said opioid deaths have increased by 3,341% in Illinois. One reason why there could be an increase in overdoses is the pandemic lockdowns.

“Before COVID started there was a lot of conversation about addictions and overdoses and then the shutdown happened and the conversation had to shift,” said Villa. “As the conversation had to shift away from these overdoses and finding solutions, more and more people got addicted because we know the mental health issues that came as a result of the pandemic.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home executive order in March 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the stay-at-home orders lasted through May of that year, the governor’s executive orders limiting economic activity, in-person school and other aspects of life lasted over three years.

Villa’s bill adds the administering power for naloxone is not within the scope of a social worker’s practice. Kyle Hillman, National Association of Social Workers Illinois legislative chair, said crisis response teams are saying the liability risk with social workers administering naloxone is too high.

“You and I as public citizens could carry and administer [naloxone] but when that social worker moves to their professional capacity they no longer have the ability to administer [naloxone] under current statute,” said Hillman. “A nurse at home could administer a shot to their child at home but if that nurse administered it to someone else outside of their scope, then it would become a liability concern the same thing is true for [naloxone].”

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2222, which remains in committee, aims to address the mental health care professionals shortage. The legislation would require all internships for school social workers to be paid internships.

State Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, said people are deterred from entering the field because students can’t afford to do an unpaid internship.

Fine’s bill creates two grant programs to provide stipends for school social work internships.

“Many students are returning students who have to work or support their family and having to do this unpaid internship is a big financial burden they just can’t afford to take on,” said Fine.

Through SB2222 the Illinois State Board of Education will present grants of at least $15,000 to school social work interns. More taxpayer money would be dedicated to a second grant program where dollars would be given to colleges and universities to hand out to students pursuing social work.

“Men and women who we so desperately need in the field step away from the field because of the fact they cannot afford to pursue these jobs. We need to do what we can in the state of Illinois to make sure there are no barriers to increasing our mental health workforce,” said Fine.

According to Wirepoints, in 2022, Illinois experienced a net loss of 54,000 educated residents age 25 and older to other states. Nearly one out of two public school graduates bound for a four-year university chose to leave Illinois rather than studying at an in-state institution.

Karina Bueno, a student at the University of Illinois Springfield, was with Fine during a news conference advocating for SB2222.

“If my education provided a stipend I would not need to work three places and I would not feel the crushing stress I do now,” said Bueno.