COUNTY – Addressing heroin overdose is at the top of the Lake County Opiate Initiative's priority list.
The organization, which formed eight months ago, brought together Lake County leaders Feb. 27 to discuss a resolution that would place naloxone - commonly known by the brand name Narcan – in police squad cars throughout Lake County.
Naloxone counters the effects of a heroin overdose and can be administered through a nasal spray or injection into a muscle.
Ray Rose, Lake County undersheriff and chair of the initiative's public safety committee, said carrying naloxone in squad cars is a "piece in the puzzle" of fighting the life-threatening effects of heroin.
"In many instances, such as a traffic stop where someone's rushing a person who's overdosing to the hospital, having that tool could help us save lives," Rose said.
Police often arrive to a scene before first responders and ambulances, he said.
Rose said the Lake County Board is working to put a resolution in place to support placing naloxone kits in police cars, and ensure both police officers and Lake County residents will be legally protected.
Lake County Board Vice Chair Carol Calabresa said barriers to instituting the policy are "clarification of the Good Samaritan law, training of police officers and sheriff's officers and funding."
Illinois' Good Samaritan law grants legal immunity to witnesses and victims of drug overdose if they seek emergency assistance.
Funding for the naloxone kits could come from drug asset seizure funds, which is money seized from drug dealers that comes back to municipalities involved in the arrests, Rose said, adding that it seems fitting. Calabresa said the board is also looking into funding from grants and donations.
Calabresa said law enforcement is eager to have the kits in squad cars by next month, but that could be delayed by the timing of legislation in Springfield and depends on how quickly police training can be completed.
If the resolution passes, nine pilot community police departments including Mundelein, Round Lake and Grayslake are interested in training to use the naloxone kits, Rose said.
Kevin Kaminski of Ingleside, chair of Heroin Anonymous support groups in Round Lake, Antioch and Libertyville, said he sees mostly 17- to 28-year olds in Heroin Anonymous and has attended more than 20 funerals of young people lost to heroin in the last two years.
"That's what keeps me going [with community outreach] – we're losing our youth," Kaminski said. "Kids in our area are dying."
Margaret Polovchak, market development manager for OMNI Youth Services in Buffalo Grove, co-chairs the initiative's education and awareness committee. She said many people don't understand that heroin abuse often starts with abusing prescription opiates, and that there are misconceptions of what a heroin user looks like.
"They aren't shooting up in an alley anymore," Polovchak said.
Lisa Bloom, outreach coordinator for Gateway Foundation in Lake Villa, is on the initiative's prevention committee. She said Gateway Foundation's Young Men's Bridge program for 18- to 23-year olds has grown in numbers in recent years, and is the largest program they have right now with 28 clients receiving assistance for substance abuse treatment and the transition into adulthood.
The Lake County Health Department surveyed 250 health care providers on what treatment is available for heroin addiction, relating to mental health illness or chemical dependency.
After the data is reported in June, it will help the initiative evaluate treatment capabilities now and in the future, said Dr. Ted Testa, director of behavioral health services for the Lake County Health Department.
Lake County Opiate Initiative decided on an official name and motto and announced plans for a public forum on heroin and opiate abuse in Lake County at the meeting.
"It's time for us to step up and let the public know what we're doing," Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim told the group made up of representatives from the Lake County Board, Lake County Health Department, Lake County Sheriff's Office and police departments, recovery and prevention agencies and residents affected by opiate abuse.
"Our next big thing will be a county-wide forum," Nerheim said.
The initiative voted to change their name from Lake County Opioid Abuse and Overdose Prevention Initiative to Lake County Opiate Initiative, and approved "One more is one less" as the motto.
Chelsea Laliberte, founder of Live4Lali and one of the founders of Lake County Opiate Initiative, said the 60-member initiative is about more than just teaching people about what heroin is.
Laliberte founded Live4Lali in 2009 after the loss of her brother, Alex Laliberte, to a heroin overdose in 2008. The nonprofit aims to educate the public about substance abuse and overdose prevention.
"We're trying to do something more impactful and rebuild what we lost," Laliberte said. "We're addressing the lack of ability to connect with the community. We're trying to change our culture."
For information, call the Lake County State's Attorney's Office at 847-377-3000.