A new hope

Police officers in DuPage County have a new weapon in the war against heroin — a drug called Narcan.

Officers from various DuPage County police departments received training Friday at the DuPage County Health Department in the use of the drug that reverses the effects of opiate overdoses.

The DuPage Narcan Program is sponsored by the Health Department, which put up the initial $40,000 to get the program started and supplied with Narcan, the trade name for the drug Naloxone.

Roselle Police Det. Rob Gates is impressed with the project.

“This is a good program,” he said, after learning how to load the drug into an atomizer for use in a victim’s nasal passages.

He said that providing Narcan to police officers, who themselves are sometimes first on the scene of an overdose, can only increase the person’s chances for survival.

“Any amount of time helps,” he said.

The program comes at a time when DuPage County has experienced a spike in the number of heroin overdose deaths, with the DuPage Coroner’s Office reporting 87 heroin overdose deaths within the last 24 months.

“Heroin is an epidemic that shows no social or economic boundaries,” Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala said.

Training in the use of Narcan began in January in DuPage, resulting in 364 officers countywide now carrying the drug while on duty.

Training will continue through the spring, with the goal of ultimately equipping 1,244 police officers throughout the county with Narcan.

Andrea Gargani, DuPage director of Community Health Services, walked the trainees Friday through a typical scenario of a heroin overdose incident, including how to identify an overdose in progress. Usually the victim is unresponsive, with their lips and nails turning blue.

She showed them how to set up the atomizer and draw the medicine from its vial.

“You push it as far up the nostril as you can,” she said, stressing that the dose was to be administered in each nostril, after which the person should be placed in a “recovery position,” preferably on their left side.

Gargani explained to the trainees that it was perfectly acceptable to give the victim a second dose if they were unresponsive to the first.

She also stressed the need to get the person to a hospital quickly, because the first responder has no way of knowing how much heroin the person has taken, or what other drugs or level of alcohol is in their system.

One officer noted that other first responders, such as firefighters and emergency medical technicians, carried a different form of Narcan that had to be injected. He asked why the program wanted police to use the nasal spray.

“It’s uncomplicated,” Gargani said. “It’s convenient and it’s painless.”

In 2010, the General Assembly approved legislation that allows police officers, as non-medical professionals, to carry and use Narcan as long as they have a good faith belief that they are witnessing a genuine overdose.

DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgenson said that when autopsy reports in early 2013 started becoming official, his office knew that the county had a serious problem on its hands. The worst month was July 2013, when DuPage had 11 heroin overdose deaths, five of them teenagers.

Jorgenson said that Narcan provides another layer of treatment for first responders to utilize, and with a price of just under $16 per dose, is an inexpensive way to save a person’s life.

One city that has extensive experience with Narcan is Quincy, Mass., a suburb of Boston with a population of just under 100,000.

Since 2010, Quincy reports using Narcan successfully in more than 200 heroin overdose incidents.

Jorgenson indicated that Quincy was a valuable source of information regarding Narcan, and DuPage County officials hope that the county could eventually play a similar role in Illinois in leading the way for others.

“Nobody in the state does what we’re doing,” he said.

Jorgenson stressed that the heroin epidemic is a serious medical problem that needs to be addressed.

“Dying of an overdose is not a way of treating people,” Jorgenson said.