Will County hires director to lead county’s prescription drug, opioid efforts

Dr. Kathleen Burke, as the new director for Substance Use Initiatives, will serve as project coordinator for the FY 17 Prescription Drug/Opioid overdose-related deaths grant that was awarded by the Illinois Department of Human Services and funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).

With the recent approval of the Will County Board, the county  hired Dr. Kathleen Burke as director for Substance Use Initiatives. In this role, Burke will serve as project coordinator for the FY 17 Prescription Drug/Opioid overdose-related deaths grant that was awarded by the Illinois Department of Human Services and funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). Will County is one of five Illinois recipients of the five-year grant serving six counties.

Working with the Regional Office of Education and the County Health Department, Burke will also enhance the community’s awareness and response to the opioid crisis. Will County will have a role in the statewide needs assessment and contribute to 1010development of state and local policies to stop the opioid crisis in Illinois.

“I am excited to have Kathleen join our staff to expand our efforts to reduce opioid abuse in Will County,” said County Executive Larry Walsh. “We have been working with Kathleen on projects relating to the opioid crisis for three years, and we are pleased she will be bringing her extensive expertise to Will County in this new role.”

Burke has a long history in health education and addressing the heroin crisis. From 2005 until 2013, she was the CEO of the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, where she led the development of the first primary prevention response to the heroin and opiate epidemic among adolescents. Burke spent 10 years at the Museum of Science and Industry, where she assisted with the development of the country’s first exhibit addressing the AIDS crisis.

Most recently, Burke was president of her own company, Strategic Prevention, in which she offered addiction recovery coaching and harm reduction training to community first responders and consulting services to new Drug Free Coalitions. She serves as a national and local adviser to numerous advocacy and community groups where she is a frequent speaker. Burke earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Care Administration from Penn State and a Master of Science degree from Rush University. She also holds a PhD in Policy Studies in Urban Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Prescription Drug Opioid Overdose Prevention Grants will provide up to $11 million annually to 12 states to reduce opioid overdose-related deaths. Will County will receive $122,500 each of the five years of the grant. Funding will support training in prevention of overdose deaths as well as the purchase and distribution of naloxone (Narcan), a powerful antidote that can reverse an opioid overdose. To date, Burke has trained 237 officers from 41 agencies in the county, including the Sheriff’s department, to administer Narcan.

“Under this grant, I will be expanding the naloxone training to community organizations and first responders,” Burke said. “We want to offer this training to people working in situations where an overdose may occur. The more people who are trained to administer naloxone, the more lives will be saved.

“There has been a change in the perception of opiate abuse,” she said. “Addiction is a chronic brain disease and there is a lot of work to be done to educate the public, as a whole, on the science of addiction and the best methods to treat individuals suffering from addiction. We are heading in the right direction.”

In addition to the activities funded by the grant, Will County is funding a portion of Burke’s salary to enhance prevention education programs in local schools, and support similar activities that counter the abuse of heroin and other opioids in the county.

“Will County was one of the first counties to bring attention to the opiate crisis,” Walsh said. “Kathleen’s work will enable us to reduce substance abuse and save lives in Will County.”

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