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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner was in St. Louis Tuesday night and under fire from critics for what amounted to a partial veto of what was hailed as a life-saving heroin bill.

Rauner’s action effectively gutted the bill as passed by the legislature, critics said.

“Governor, a question about the heroin bill?” FOX 2 reporter, Andy Banker asked him.  “Tonight’s about education,” Rauner said.

He was at the Ballpark Hilton for an education awards ceremony.  He dodged the questions about 20 minutes before the ceremony started.

The bill’s supporters had plenty to say.

Chad Sabora/Mo Network for Opiate Reform & Recovery:  “What our governor just did is he just signed the death warrant for thousands of children in the State of Illinois,” said Chad Sabora, co-founder of the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery.  “There’s no reason to veto this bill.  The money’s there.”

Sabora is a former heroin addict turned activist.  He helps steer heroin users into treatment.

A treatment center in Caseyville saved his life in 2011, he said.

“We’re losing.  When I started this work it was one person dying every 19 minutes in this country.  Now its one person dying every 13 minutes,” Sabora said.

The Madison County Coroner reported 26 heroin deaths in 2011; 26 last year with 14 deaths still being investigated.  There were already been 28 heroin deaths through 7 months of this year with 9 deaths still under investigation.

Rauner left in place portions of the bill that require first responders to have access to the heroin antidote, Narcan, to be trained in how to use it.  Narcan essentially reverses heroin overdoses.  The World Health Organization estimates greater access to Narcan can save the lives of 20,000 people-a-year at risk of dying from heroin overdoses.

He also left in place a requirement for insurance companies to cover the costs of treatment and medications used in that treatment.

But Rauner struck the part of the bill that requires Medicaid coverage for all medication-based treatments for the uninsured, saying the state can’t afford it.

The bill’s proponents said Rauner was flat wrong.

“Even if you take away the cost of human life and suffering, from an economic point of view, addicts are stealing our retailer’s blind.  They are robbing from our neighborhoods.  They are stealing from our cars.  They’re breaking into homes,” said Madison County State’s Attorney, Tom Gibbons.  “In all of our efforts in the last 4 years of combating the heroin epidemic, we view it as 3 part strategy of treatment, education, and enforcement.  Like a three-legged stool, you take one of the legs out and it all falls over.”

“$1 invested into treatment will save the state $12 when we can get the person clean and living a life of recovery,” Sabora said.

The state would also save on incarceration costs with addicts getting treatment instead of going to prison, Gibbons said.

The bill’s supporters are planning to rally at the capital in Springfield next week to push for an override.

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You can also call Chad Sabora at 314-717-3472 or Chelsea Laliberte at 847-814-3988.