The Village of Oak Park is considering purchasing emergency opioid overdose kits to prevent opioid overdose fatalities in the community. The kits, known as NaloxBoxes, are intended to increase the capacity of bystander rescuers to save lives of people who have overdosed on opioids in Oak Park.

Opioid addiction and overdoses are national crises, and while it may not be as widely apparent, Oak Park is not impervious to the problem. The Oak Park Public Health Department tracks the number of local opioid overdoses, which has increased 95% in the last decade. In 2022, Oak Park saw 151 overdoses – that the health department knows about. When there is an overdose or death related to a stigmatized disorder, such as addiction or substance abuse, people are reluctant to report it. Those unreported incidents go undocumented by health departments.

Theresa D. Chapple-McGruder

“There’s always under counting of deaths that have stigmas or overdoses,” said Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder.

The 2022 overdose data provided by Oak Park epidemiologist Clarissa Najera suggests that adults struggle with opioids more than teenagers. Opioid overdoses in Oak Park occurred most often to people within the age range of 45-65, accounting for 84 of the reported 151. There were also 52 overdoses in people aged between 18 and 44 with 14 overdoses in people aged over 65. Zero overdoses were reported from the age group of 5-17. Wednesday Journal awaits the number of opioid-related fatalities from the village’s health department.

NaloxBoxes contain such opioid overdose response tools as pre-packaged doses of naloxone, a medication used to rapidly reverse overdoses, and fentanyl test strips, which are used to identify the presence of the highly potent and addictive opioid in drugs. Naloxone has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Chapple-McGruder doesn’t anticipate there will be any barriers to implementing the program. The village board will not have to vote to implement the program because the expense falls under the village manager’s spending authority. The village manager has the authority to make purchases of up to $25,000. Purchases surpassing that threshold require village board approval.

 NaloxBoxes retail between $70 and $325. Staff is proposing purchasing seven NaloxBoxes, each containing five doses of naloxone, using funds given to the Village of Oak Park through the Illinois Opioid Allocation Agreement, according to a memo sent Feb. 1 by Chapple-McGruder to the village board. The village received $8,277.65 and $8,699.41 from the program in 2021 and 2022, respectively, and will continue to receive funds for the next 16 years.

The village may also get naxolone free from the state of Illinois, which provides the opioid antagonist gratis to certain qualifying communities. The memo states that the Oak Park Public Health Department expects to hear by mid-February if it will receive the medication from the state.

Village staff will be trained to administer naloxone, which is sprayed into the nasal cavity. The drug is also sold under the brand name of Narcan. The Oak Park health initiative would also include an education component to destigmatize opioid addiction and recovery, according to the memo.

“Families that are dealing with this tend to deal with it outside of the light of the community, but we really want to address stigma in this, and we want people to know that we should be able to help our neighbors no matter what their struggles are,” she told Wednesday Journal.

The education component extends beyond efforts to reduce stigma too. Participants in the community education sessions, which have not yet been scheduled, will also learn how to spot an opioid overdose, how to use naloxone and recognize when extra doses are needed.

The memo states that a Massachusetts study of layperson rescue of opioid overdoses using intranasal naloxone had a 98% success rate. That same, unnamed study, according to the memo, found that overdose education and NaloxBox distribution were associated with reductions in opioid overdose mortality rates.

Putting NaloxBoxes in Oak Park comes at the recommendation of the Oak Park and River Forest Opioid Taskforce, a local coalition of 10 governmental and community-based organizations, including the Community Mental Health Board and Riveredge Hospital, according to the memo. The proposal is also in response to a motion put forth by Village Trustee Jim Taglia.

If the initiative moves forward, the Village of Oak Park plans to acquire the seven NaloxBoxes by the end of the first quarter of 2023. The boxes will then be strategically placed throughout the community based on data from heat maps of overdose emergency calls to the police and fire departments and in locations recommended by the taskforce.

Proposed locations include Village Hall, the Public Works building, Chicago Transit Authority and Metra stations and public property along Austin Boulevard and North Avenue. The village is also planning to partner with other taxing bodies to put the kits in all three Oak Park Public Library branches, as well as in Maple Park and Scoville Park. Wednesday Journal has reached out to the library and the Park District of Oak Park for confirmation. The Township of Oak Park has confirmed its plans to train its staff in administering naxolone.

“We always seek collaboration and it’s not always easy to get,” said Taglia. “Right off we have the collaboration of the township, the park district and the library in this one. It will hopefully assure the success of the program and make it a long-lasting program.”

Join the discussion on social media!