Week in Review: Fentanyl, budget, jobs & more

FENTANYL How much fentanyl crosses our southern border? One of the most dangerous and deadly drugs pervading our nation currently is fentanyl. The flow of this powerful drug coming into the United States from Mexico continues to skyrocket, with the Customs and Border Patrol seizing over 19,800 pounds of fentanyl crossing the southern border in FY23, compared to 7,600 pounds in FY22. Fentanyl seizures at ports of entry nationwide quadrupled from 2019-2021, added a report from CBS News. Mexican cartels often use the powerful drug to cheaply and deceptively boost the impact of other, less lethal drugs, such as cocaine or Adderall.

The rise in fentanyl-related deaths has fueled national conversations and promoted efforts to curb its smuggling. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 70,000 people in the U.S. died from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, in 2021. Overall, 106,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021 in the U.S.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the CDC. It can be prescribed by doctors to treat patients with severe pain or advanced cancer, but it is also highly addictive. According to the United States Department of Justice, Mexican cartel associates broker the sale and shipment of fentanyl precursor chemicals, primarily from China, to labs in Mexico where the fentanyl is manufactured. From the labs, traffickers move the fentanyl into the U.S. where it is sold wholesale to other criminal organizations.

The fentanyl and mixed drugs that are produced are very powerful and result in widespread addiction, overdose and death. People addicted to fentanyl who stop using it can experience severe withdrawal symptoms only a few hours later, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (nih.gov).

Naloxone is a medicine that can be given to reverse a fentanyl overdose. It can quickly restore normal breathing to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose. Naloxone should be given to any person who shows signs of an opioid overdose or when an overdose is suspected. It can be given as a nasal spray or it can be injected into the muscle, under the skin or into the veins. All systems used by first responders deliver the lifesaving dose of naloxone. This medicine is being used more by police officers, emergency medical technicians and non-emergency first responders. In most states, people who are at-risk or who know someone at-risk for an opioid overdose can be trained on how to give Naloxone.

Illinois House Republican Leader Tony McCombie has sponsored several bills to help combat this epidemic. HB 3203 allows pharmacists and retail stores to sell potentially life-saving fentanyl test strips over the counter. As fentanyl cannot be smelled or tasted, it is impossible to determine if drugs contain the powerful opioid without the use of test strips. The test strips will be able to identify if fentanyl is present in any drug, which is essential considering a dose of only two milligrams can have fatal consequences. The legislation was passed unanimously by the General Assembly and awaits Gov. Pritzker’s signature.

“This bill will help save lives,” McCombie stated. “Fentanyl is a drug that is taking far too many lives and as we continue to take steps to address the opioid epidemic affecting Illinois families, our priority with this legislation is to do what we can to save lives.”

Illinois lawmakers haven’t exactly acted with urgency regarding this dangerous and deadly drug, and that has McCombie very frustrated. In the 102nd General Assembly, House Democrats, over strong House Republican objections, passed HB 3447 which sought to decriminalize smaller possession amounts of all drugs including fentanyl. While the bill passed the House without any Republican votes, it was not called for a vote in the Senate before the end of the 102nd General Assembly.

Leader McCombie also introduced legislation to strengthen penalties on selling drugs that contain fentanyl and against those who traffic fentanyl. “I am fed up with efforts to lessen penalties on drug dealers profiting off of selling lethal toxins to our loved ones,” added McCombie. “Fentanyl is often mixed in other drugs, vitamins and even in products that look like candy.

The flow of illegal fentanyl across our southern border and into our state must be stopped to seriously address this epidemic and save lives. Every tool must be made available to law enforcement, first responders, and educators to help end this crisis and keep our children safe from fentanyl’s lethal consequences.”

BUDGET Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) publishes fiscal numbers for final month of FY23. The recently-concluded fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2023, saw a wind-down of the unusual budget situation that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. The pandemic had a devastating effect on many Illinois economic sectors and workers in 2020. Then, a massive outburst of government stimulus spending, underwritten by the federal government, created new money velocity associated with rapidly rising inflation. During this period Illinois was getting more money from the federal government and was simultaneously getting more money from general revenue tax flows tied to price levels and inflation, such as the State sales tax. In association with these two trends, in FY22 Illinois actually ran a general-funds budget surplus – the first time this had happened in decades.

The numbers generated by CGFA, the General Assembly’s budget monitoring arm, for FY23, show that this unusual event could not be sustained. During the final months of FY23, including June 2023, State general funds receipts fell short of those that had been posted in comparable months of FY22 on a year-over-year basis. This shortfall in State income and sales tax receipts came despite the continued presence of significant inflation in employee payrolls, retail stores, utility bills, and at the gas pump.

For the State of Illinois as a whole, FY23 general funds receipts totaled more than $53.1 billion in FY23, the year that ended June 30, 2023. While this was an increase of $2.1 billion over the figure of more than $51.0 billion for FY22, virtually all of this increase was attributable to one-time transfers of funds. $2.4 billion in net increases of FY23 receipts over comparable FY22 figures were credited to the net effects of funds transferred in, including former COVID-19 aid funds transferred from the State’s CURE fund into General Revenue. On Wednesday, July 5, JCAR staff published a warning to the General Assembly that this upward-seeming FY23 fiscal picture should be attributed to “federal dollars” and should not be treated as a sustainable State cash flow of spendable money. As FY23 came to an end, underlying State of Illinois base tax revenues were actually falling, not rising. This included the key revenue cash flow represented by income taxes and sales taxes. Tentative agreement reached between Pritzker Administration and AFSCME. Details of the deal announced this week were not immediately made public. However, the contract negotiations encompass pay, retirement, health care, and other benefits for the State of Illinois’ AFSCME workers. AFSCME represents approximately 35,000 state workers.

JOBS New layoff announcement at Walgreens hits an Illinois distribution center. Following a major layoff action in May that centered on the retail giant’s corporate staff and Deerfield headquarters, Walgreens issued a new job loss announcement this week. The company announced on Wednesday, July 5 that it plans to shut down an e-commerce shipping center in Edwardsville, in Illinois’ Metro-East region, resulting in 392 layoffs.

In late June, Walgreens also announced plans to implement a store location reduction plan for the next 12 months that is expected to close 150 stores across the U.S. While the nationwide store closing operation does not specifically target Illinois, the changes in Walgreens’ operational volume will affect its distribution and headquarters operations.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS New ‘730’ area code coming to Southern Illinois communities. A new phone area code is just days away from making its debut in Central and Southern Illinois.

The Illinois Commerce Commission announced on Friday that it had approved the implementation of the new area code 730 to overlay the existing area code 618 region. The new code will start to be assigned in this region on Friday, July 7.

All or part of 37 counties, including Effingham County, are a part of the region. Customers in the region may be assigned area code 730 when they request a new service or an additional line. ICC officials said 730 will coexist with 618 everywhere in the region.

Read more about this story from WCIA.

COUNTY FAIRS County Fairs Across the State Offer Wholesome Family Fun. One of the great aspects of life in Illinois are the unique County Fairs that are held from June through October all over the state. Find the full list of county fairs at FAIRS | IAAF – Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs (illinoiscountyfairs.org). There are over 100 County Fairs in Illinois, all offering wholesome fun for the whole family. The vast majority of county fairs in Illinois are held in the summer months of June, July and August.

The longest continuous running fair in Illinois is the Knox County Fair, which runs from July 10-15 this year. Events at the Knox County Fair include harness races, stock car races, tractor and truck pulls, figure 8 racing, demolition derbies, and a 4-H show. Musical performers include the Stone Cold Cowboys, Scotty McCreery, Sawyer Brown, and several others. The Knox County Fair also features plenty of food and drink options as well, along with carnival rides and a host of attractions. The Knox County Fair dates back to 1851, when it was known as the Knoxville Fair.

County Fairs offer unique and safe gathering places for members of a local community, and they also serve as homecomings and reunions for natives who have moved out of the area. The best part about county fairs is they offer entertainment options for the entire family, young and old alike. And compared to alternate entertainment options, county fairs represent an affordable option for families to enjoy time together and meet with friends.

Many families prove their agricultural, gardening, livestock, cooking and baking skills at county fair competitions. Younger children and teenagers hone their skills throughout the years to be ready for these types of competitions, showing their values of dedication and hard work. Competing at these events and achieving success at county fair competitions boosts confidence and provides life lessons for children and teenagers alike.