As President Donald J. Trump laid out his vision for the country in his State of the Union address January 30 in Washington, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) and his guest for the evening, Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim, heard words important to them.
Just over halfway through his speech, Trump spent a few minutes talking about the nation’s “drug epidemic” and what he wants to do to combat it.
Nerheim, a Republican, is a prominent advocate battling the opioid epidemic in Lake County. Schneider asked Nerheim to be his guest and sit in the gallery of the House of Representatives to hear the State of the Union because of those efforts.
“Mike (Nerheim) has been a leader in Lake County promoting drug treatment solutions and bringing together law enforcement, medical professionals, community leaders and elected officials to address the crisis,” said Schneider in a news release when he invited Nerheim. “I’m hoping Congress can learn from Lake County’s bipartisan example as we seek solutions to reduce opioid addiction.”
The president suggested a combination of enforcement and treatment. He said it will take time but expects a victory for the American people in the end.
“We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge,” said Trump. “My Administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need, for those who have been in such horrible pain.”
Saying he was glad the president touched on the subject of drug addiction, Nerheim wants to see a more specific program. He said Lake County is “resource rich” but its treatment facilities are nearing capacity.
“We need federal funding for treatment,” said Nerheim. “Our A Way Out program puts people into treatment without fear of arrest but we’re running out of places to put the folks.”
Schneider said opioid addiction begins for many people because they become dependent on prescription pain medication. He said he currently supports proposed legislation that requires prescribers to get 12 hours of education every three years to better help people manage pain. He said the bill is in committee.
“It’s going to take an effort by the pharmaceutical manufacturers, the medical community and government working together,” said Schneider.
The president said during his speech 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. He did not distinguish between opioids and other narcotics.
In Lake County, there were approximately 50 opioid overdose fatalities in 2016, according to Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper. In the same year, 85 overdoses were reversed with the administration of Naloxone, according to Hannah Goering, a spokesperson for the Lake County Health Department. There were 58 deaths and 92 saves last year.
For Nerheim the trip to Washington was the first time he experienced the State of the Union in person. He said he has always watched it on television but seeing the pageantry up close from the House gallery was special.
“It was an awesome opportunity to see the (United States) Supreme Court judges walk in, to see the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all the members of Congress,” said Nerheim. “It was a really, really neat experience.”
This was the third State of the Union for Schneider as a representative but he said it was different because this time the president was not a member of his party. “He said some things that any president would say about the greatness of our country,” said Schneider. “He said some things I feel are unfair about immigration policy. We can work together on infrastructure but we have to make sure it is infrastructure for the 21st Century.”