February 18, 2016

Coalitions in Action: How Bill Helped to Pass a Law

Bill Gentes, the Project Coordinator for the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevention Task Force in Lake County, Ill., had a unique challenge. The coalition’s nine permanent drop boxes were at capacity. So, using strategies learned at CADCA’s National Coalition Academy, the coalition leveraged their resources, advocated for a state law, and, as a result, increased collection capacity and lowered their opioid overdose rates.

But the “adventure in advocacy,” as Gentes puts it, wasn’t without its challenges.

The coalition took about a year to help get the Lake County Prescription Drug Disposal Pilot Program, SB2928, passed in 2014. The state law provides that the program facilitate the collection, transportation, and disposal of pharmaceuticals by law enforcement agencies.

Gentes and his colleagues shared their timeline at CADCA’s National Leadership Forum. Their poster, presented at an Ideas Fair booth with dozens of others, “Advocating for Success: The Making of a State Law, in Many Easy Steps!” was voted by fellow attendees to be an award winner for Innovation.

The poster session featured a bumble-bee-colored display that made Forum attendees a buzz. The display told the coalition’s step-by-step story they took to garner success.

From identifying and diagnosing real physical barriers to the disposing of prescription drugs in Lake County, to briefing a state senator about the problem and getting buy-in from the senator, to navigating through a bunch of “regulatory minefields,” to getting unanimous votes in both the Illinois House and Senate and then having the Governor sign the bill. The poster told the story, Gentes said.

“We tried to explain all aspects of the policy campaign, from the initial preparation to follow up after the vote, including insight on decreasing stress that some people feel from interacting with elected officials,” he said. Gentes, a former elected official himself, was also CADCA’s 2014 Advocate of the Year.

Through the efforts of the task force, the prescription drug disposal network has grown to 27 disposal sites. The bill’s implementation has helped the coalition to collect nearly 12,000 pounds in 2015, an increase of 9,000 pounds.

“The coalition was also able to collect detailed data about the collected medications, which revealed that our efforts removed more than $750,000 in street value scheduled medications from medicine cabinets throughout our county,” Gentes said. “This was all due to the advocacy of committed coalitions in Lake County and in Illinois, in general.”

The advocacy work on SB2928 helped to foster and strengthen relationships with key officials in the political and corporate worlds.

“Since this endeavor, we now have state senators asking us what we want them to work on for us. The key point we would emphasize is your coalition can do this all by advocating to any level of government anytime, anywhere,” Gentes, the former Round Lake Mayor, added.

The coalition also used their advocacy strategies recently with Walgreens, headquartered in their county, to secure collection bins for unused, unwanted and/or expired prescription drugs in their stores and to sell the opioid/heroin overdose reversal drug naloxone without a prescription. The coalition’s task force disposal network is also a model used by the Drug Enforcement Administration for other organizations around the country.

Gentes said advocacy work can be daunting, but advises other coalitions to persevere.

“Stick with it. This process took us years to get to,” he concluded.

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