Will County approves training cops to help stop heroin oversoses
By Susan DeMar Lafferty email@example.com July 17, 2014 5:42PM
Dr. Kathleen Burke | Supplied photo
Updated: August 19, 2014 6:31AM
Will County added another tool in its fight against the heroin epidemic as it launched a Naloxone distribution and education program to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.
It is another step in the county’s continuing collaborative effort to fight heroin, which began over two years ago with its HELPS (Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions) program.
Through a grant with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Will County Board approved a one-year $36,000 contract with Dr. Kathleen Burke to train police officers in how to use Naloxone — more commonly known as Narcan — a nasal spray that can save the life of someone overdosing on heroin.
Burke said she is excited about the new initiative.
“Will County took the first step, the most important step, by investing in education. It’s a long-term investment, but it has the best outcome,” Burke said of the county’s heroin prevention program. “In the meantime, we can save lives, until kids understand that heroin is deadly.”
The training will begin in two to three months, Burke said. DuPage County also has a Narcan distribution program and already has saved 10 lives, including one on the first day, she said.
In a half-day session, Burke will train officers to train others in their department on the proper use and storage of Narcan. She also trains people who have a family member addicted to heroin.
State law allows nonmedical personnel to administer Narcan in an emergency situation.
The nasal spray immediately gets into the bloodstream and acts as an antidote to opiates, Burke said. Opiates suppress breathing and Narcan allows the person to breathe again.
Narcan cannot hurt a person or cause a bad reaction, she said.
“It’s important to get as many people trained as possible. Heroin addition is a chronic disease,” Burke said.
The Will County sheriff’s department and Joliet and Bolingbrook police departments already have volunteered to participate. Police departments will pay for the Narcan, which will be purchased through the Will County Health Department.
Paramedics typically carry Narcan and have saved many lives, but police officers often are the first on the scene, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow said.
In addition to training officers in the use of Narcan, Burke also will oversee the program and supplies, educate the community about this effort, and collect data to monitor the program’s successes or failures.
Since HELPS began spreading the message about the deadly effects of heroin, there has been a “phenomenal downturn” in heroin-related deaths, from 53 in 2012 to 35 in 2013, Glasgow said. In the first six months of this year, 14 heroin overdose deaths have been reported.
“Our message is getting out there. This is another essential step. It is a minimal cost with maximum benefits,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. “We do not advocate trying heroin just because we may save your life. Absolutely not. This is not a drug to play with. It is a deadly drug.”
Walsh said HELPS also will expand its education efforts in the schools this year. In collaboration with the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, a heroin prevention program will be taught in Valley View School District 365. The program has been held in Joliet Township High Schools and Troy Middle School.
In addition to education and prevention, Glasgow said they have “dried up the sources” by increasing drug convictions.
This approach of enforcement, education and prevention has “worked better than anything,” he said. “We’re not going to let up.”
Will County is the “first on the block” to have such preventive effort, Burke said. “It is the only county that has seen a reduction in heroin deaths.”
“I am glad Will County continues to be on the forefront of addressing heroin use as a health issue and not a criminal act,” county board member Reed Bible, D-Plainfield, chairman of the board’s judicial committee said in a press release. “The Narcan program will continue this enlightened approach of fighting heroin.”