JOLIET – Thanks to a new countywide program, law enforcement officials will soon be equipped with an anti-overdose drug – known as Narcan – that helps reverse the potentially deadly effects of heroin.
Members of the Will County Board on Thursday approved the rollout of the Narcan Distribution Program, which entails training police officers on how to administer the heroin overdose antidote.
Paramedics have long used Narcan to counter the effects of heroin overdoses. But the countywide program will allow police officers to carry the drug and use it if they come across an overdose victim.
The program is being funded through a $29,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Kathleen Burke, president of Strategic Prevention, a consulting firm specializing in substance abuse, will head up the training program in Will County.
She said Narcan, a trade name for the opioid antidote drug naloxone, could mean the difference between life and death in some cases.
“Police officers are often the first on scene, even before the ambulance is called, so it’s really important that the antidote be administered as soon as possible,” Burke said.
If given to the victim in time, naloxone can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose by blocking opioid receptors in the brain.
Preventing overdose deaths is particularly important because heroin addiction is very difficult to overcome, she said.
“What we’ve seen is that even if they go into treatment, heroin users often relapse,” Burke said. “When folks relapse, that’s a very dangerous time because their use of the drug needs to be lower than what they went into treatment for. They very often overdose at that point.”
Burke said she hopes to roll out training, which is voluntary, in September. The program will be available to all police departments in Will County.
As of Tuesday, there have been 14 overdoses in Will County this year involving heroin, or heroin coupled with other drugs, according to data from the coroner’s office. In nine of the 14 overdoses, heroin was the sole cause of death.
The new program is part of Will County’s overall goal of reducing heroin overdose deaths.
Three years ago, county officials teamed up with a parents’ group to form Will County HELPS (Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions) to get the word out about the dangers of heroin. The county also provided heroin education programs at local schools by partnering with the Robert Crown Center for Health Education.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh said Thursday he hopes Narcan gives drug addicts a second chance at life.
“I believe in my own mind that somebody who comes close to passing away from an overdose will realize he was saved just in the nick of time by a dosage of Narcan,” Walsh said. “Hopefully, it gives them the willpower it will take to seek counseling and rehab to get off the addiction of this terrible drug.”
Burke said heroin addiction is a reality society must face.
“This is a strategy used to prevent people from dying. Because it’s a chronic disease, we will always have situations where there’s relapse. It’s really important that we don’t just throw up our hands and say ‘Well, that’s just the way it is,’ ” Burke said.
By the numbers
Fatal heroin overdose deaths in Will County
2014 – 14 (as of Tuesday)
2013 – 35
2012 – 53
2011 – 30
2010 – 26