Township might offer opiate overdose antidote

Trustee says providing Narcan for low cost or free would save lives

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Naxolone, often referred to by its brand name Narcan, has been called a miracle drug and has become so important in preventing overdoses in the opioid/heroin epidemic that the state of Illinois recently required all police departments to begin carrying the drug.

The Oak Park Police Department announced earlier this year that it would begin equipping all of its officers with doses of the drug because, as emergency responders, they are often the first on the scene when an overdose is reported.

A quick injection of Narcan will quickly reverse the effects of an overdose, and advocates have argued that equipping officers with the drug can mean the difference between life and death.

Now Oak Park Township is considering expanding access to the drug by providing it for free to those at risk and those who have loved ones they believe are at risk for accidental overdoses.

Jim Taglia, a trustee at Oak Park Township, said the board has been discussing the proposal, because the wholesale cost of two kits would run about $30.

"The township is looking to fund the program ourselves or partner with an agency to do that for us," he said.

Dan Bigg, director of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, who has advised the township board on distributing Naxolone, said the problem with opioid overdoses is not just with heroin users. 

About three-quarters of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. are from taking pharmaceutical drugs, he said, noting that drug overdose is currently the number one cause of accidental death in the country. 

Bigg says that patients who receive more than 50 milligrams of morphine-based narcotics also should be required to receive Naxolone. 

"Pharmacists can do that today without a prescription," he said.

The opioid epidemic is just as much a problem in Oak Park as other parts of the country. In April, 48-year-old Chicago man was found dead in a third-floor bathroom at Oak Park Public Library's Main branch, and police in River Forest and Forest Park noted at the time that calls to police reporting heroin use in public bathrooms is common in the area. 

The federal DEA noted in its National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary published in 2015 that heroin deaths in the U.S. have tripled since 2010.

Taglia said that although opioid abuse is a widespread problem, he believes there still is a stigma tied to purchasing drugs to prevent overdoses. He said making Narcan available at a low cost or free would get the drug into more people's hands and save lives.

"We want to be ahead of the curve on this because it's such an epidemic," he said.

He noted that other police departments and municipalities in other parts of the country already are doing it. 

The Gloucester Massachusetts Police Department, for example, uses money seized in drug arrests to purchase the drug and provide it for free. The cities of Baltimore; New Haven, Connecticut; and Columbus, Ohio also are providing Narcan free of charge, Taglia said.

Taglia said the Oak Park and River Forest High School nurse's office recently started carrying the anti-overdose drug as well. 

The Oak Park Fire Department told Wednesday Journal earlier this year that fire department paramedics administered the drug an average of once a week in 2014 and 2015.

Making Narcan easily available to the public is "the next mechanism we can use to try to help this situation," Taglia said.

"Families are impacted and patients are impacted and we want to help them get through this," Taglia said. "Getting people into treatment would be the ultimate goal."

Bigg suggested Oak Park consider making the drug available at fire stations, so those interested could come in and learn how to administer the drug, and at hospitals for patients who come in suffering from opioid addiction.

Saving lives isn't the only goal, Bigg said, noting that many who suffer overdoses and survive can experience permanent impairment due to a lack of oxygen to the brain that occurs during overdose episodes.

He said the township already is discussing a potential program with the village of Oak Park and that mitigating the heroin epidemic are part of the mission of both entities.

"In the case of the township, it impacts at-risk youth, seniors and those with mental health conditions. For the village, the Health Department is trying to positively impact the overall health and well-being of residents," Taglia said in an email. "These missions overlap, which I believe make the township and the village natural partners."


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