Lawrence M. Walsh
For the second year, Will County was awarded the Prescription Drug/Opioid Overdose Related Deaths grant by the Illinois Department of Human Services and funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to further its efforts in combating the opioid overdose epidemic. Will County is part of the Statewide Illinois Opioid Crisis Advisory Council.
Dr. Kathleen Burke, the county’s Director of Substance Use Initiatives, said Will County has made significant progress introducing strategies to save lives. The grant-funded Narcan Distribution Program has trained 168 people between February and June. Each person trained received two free doses of Narcan. In 2016, all police departments in Will County were trained to deliver naloxone, the life-saving antidote that can reverse an opiate overdose. To date in 2017, naloxone has been deployed 16 times compared to 16 times total in 2016.
“An overdose can occur anytime anywhere so it is critical we have as many people as possible trained to administer naloxone and save a life, especially folks who work with high risk individuals, family members, and substance users” Burke said. “I am overwhelmed by the level of commitment and interest I have received from our law enforcement personnel and community members. This is an important part of our harm reduction efforts.”
Burke said the Will County strategy against the opiate epidemic includes prevention, harm reduction, treatment and long term recovery services. She is conducting an inventory of school programs offered in Will County and treatment services, including access to Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT). It has been documented there is a shortage of treatment resources.
“To facilitate access to treatment we have worked with five police departments across the county to establish a Safe Passage program in which someone who struggles with an opiate addiction can come into the police department and ask for help without fear of prosecution,” she said. “Through the partnerships we have established, the participant can be connected directly to a treatment program usually within 24 hours.”
Despite all of these efforts, overdose deaths are increasing because of Fentanyl - a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.
“Drug dealers are mixing heroin with fentanyl and people have no idea what they are getting,” Burke said. “It is so powerful, it often takes more than one or two doses of Narcan to revive someone who has overdosed from fentanyl or a fentanyl-laced substance. We have a lot of work to do to continue to educate about the dangers of opiates, train the public on the use of naloxone, and expand access to treatment.”
Will County Executive Larry Walsh commends Burke and the county’s efforts to address this opiate epidemic. He said the additional funding will be critical in continuing these programs.
“We are thankful to the federal government for recognizing the success of our efforts and the fact there is much more work to be done,” Walsh said. “This battle is on a grass roots level and Dr. Burke has been very effective in building partnerships to help expand our efforts and save as many lives as we can. Will County remains fully committed to stopping overdose deaths and educating the public about the dangers of these terrible substances.”
For more information on the county’s substance use initiatives, contact Burke at (815) 774-7486.