The Oak Park Board of Trustees gave the green light to the Oak Park Health Department to apply for a $70,000 grant through the Illinois Department of Public Health to help fight the opioid epidemic.

The one-year Local Health Department Overdoses Surveillance and Response Project grant, if awarded to the local health department, will be used to help record and document instances of opioid abuse in the area and report back to the state.

The base award for the grant is $60,000, and another $10,000 is available to help reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis infection, which are commonly spread through opioid use.

Oak Park Health Director Mike Charley said opioid use in the area has jumped dramatically over the last few years.

Data from Rush Oak Park Hospital in 2015 shows that 300 patients admitted to the hospital that year had been using opioids, Charley said. That number jumped to 420 for 2016 and 431 for 2017. Data for 2018 is not yet available, Charley said.

“You’re seeing that this is a nationwide thing, but we’re lucky enough with this [potential] grant to invest more time and participation to make a bigger impact locally,” he said.

The project is funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is a unique opportunity for Oak Park, which is one of only handful of municipalities in the state that has its own health department. The grant is only available to such municipalities and to county health departments.

Charley said the grant would help support the village’s ongoing efforts to fight the opioid epidemic through Oak Park’s Opioid Taskforce, which includes more than a dozen organizations, including police departments in Oak Park and River Forest; West Suburban and Rush Oak Park hospitals; Oak Park and River Forest village and township governments; and numerous other public entities.

“River Forest and Oak Park are ahead of the curve in providing information to residents and being prepared to work with everyone, so we best understand the issues,” Charley said.

The grant money will be used for a salaried employee to help track opioid use in the area.

“They want a structure built and some surveillance in place that has good communication with the hospital and organizations that deal with overdose statistics,” said Rahel Woldenmichael, grants coordinator for the Oak Park Health Department.

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