For the second year, Will County was awarded a grant to combat the opioid overdose epidemic. Dr. Kathleen Burke, the country’s Director of Substance Use Initiatives, said Will County has made significant progress introducing strategies to save lives. The grand-funded Narcan Distribution Program has trained 169 people between February and June of this year. Each person trained received two free doses of Narcan. In 2016, all police departments in Will County were trained to deliver naloxone, the life-saving antidote that can reverse an opiate overdose. In 2017, naloxone has been used just as many times in the last 6 months, than it had in all of 2016. Last year naloxone was used 16 times in the entire year.
Will County is fighting the opiate epidemic on several fronts including prevention, harm reduction, treatment and long term recovery services. Burke says to “facilitate access to treatment” they’ve worked with five police departments across the county to establish a Safe Passage program in which someone who struggles with an opiate addiction can go into the police department and ask for help without fear of prosecution. Someone can be connected to a treatment program usually within 24 hours.
Despite all these efforts, overdose deaths are increasing because of Fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Drug dealers are mixing heroin with Fentanyl and people are unaware of what they’re taking. Burke says, “It’s so powerful, it often takes more than one or two doses of Narcan to revive someone who has overdosed.” She says there is still a lot of work to do to educate the public about the dangers of opiates, train the public on the use of naloxone, and expand access to treatment.
The grant by the Illinois Department of Human Services is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.