November 3, 2017

S&P: Illinois will struggle with increased costs of opioid crisis

ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

Illinoisí opioid epidemic is sure to put a squeeze on the stateís already shaky finances, if it isnít already.

A report from credit rating agency Standard & Poor's said growing costs from opioid addiction wonít immediately diminish any stateís credit rating, which in Illinois is just above junk status, but for states struggling to maintain budget balances, any increased costs will be unwelcomed.

Jeffrey Collord from Chicago area substance abuse treatment centers Haymarket Center said a recent study from Gov. Bruce Raunerís opioid action plan released in September found that 11.7 percent of people with substance abuse problems were able to get help.

"That means that 88 people out of every 100 who need substance abuse treatment could not get it," Collord said.

That indicates costs to treat opioid addiction could explode in Illinois.

S&Pís report author David Hitchcock said for states with structural budget imbalances like Illinois, it will be tough to find the funds.

"Itís a marginal increase," Hitchcock said of the possible increased opioid costs compared to the overall state budget, "but one that makes it just that much more difficult for them to balance their budget. Theyíll have to find some other place in their budget to cut to make up for any increase of any sort."

Just how much costs could grow is difficult to tell. The biggest impact will be on spending for law enforcement, jails and prisons, Hitchcock said, and that will crowd out other services.

"Because if you incarcerate more people, treat more people, have to pay more Medicaid expenditures, thatís a fixed costs that has to be paid before other things that are discretionary," he said.

The crowding out effect isnít just from opioid costs, but also from the stateís mounting pension debt and backlog of unpaid bills.

Illinois already has major structural deficits. The stateís unfunded pension debt and state employee retiree healthcare costs total more than $200 billion. The Illinois comptrollerís office reports the stateís backlogged bills are more than $16.5 billion. And Raunerís office said the fiscal 2018 budget lawmakers passed over his veto is already $1.7 billion out of balance.

Collord said Illinois is already lagging behind.

"Illinois has struggled to maintain a maintenance of effort requirement, thatís like a match, that Illinois has to meet in order to get the federal funding for substance abuse treatment," Collord said.

Hitchcockís study highlighted Illinois as one of more than 20 states across the country that saw a statistically significant increase of more than 5 percent in opioid overdoses from 2014 to 2015.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said nearly 1,900 people died of opioid overdose in Illinois last year.