The Regional News
01 Mar 2018 02:08 | Written by Anthony Caciopo
Chief Mike Schofield of the Orland Fire Protection District has seen a very troubling change in recent years.
“Six, seven years ago we were handling maybe one heroin overdose a year,” he said. “Today, we do several a month.”
In Palos Heights, Deputy Police Chief William Czajkowski says the department has also witnessed an increase.
“It’s definitely on an uptick,” he said. “We’re seeing this with residents in our community and residents who come to our community from nearby communities.”
Chief Joe Miller of the Palos Park Police Department said, “I serve one of the most educated and wealthy communities in the State of Illinois and we’ve already had four “saves” this year,” a reference to an overdose rescue using an injectable drug carried by police officers.
In 2017, 123 saves were reported by 52 suburban police departments, including four in Orland Park, one in Palos Park and one in Palos Heights. In addition to the four reported by Miller in Palos Park already this year, Czajkowski of the Palos Heights PD told The Regional News that two saves were made just this past weekend. Two attempts at rescue last year were unsuccessful, he said.
The sobering statistics of the nationwide opioid epidemic are reflected, in at least rough proportion, in virtually every geographic area.
In Illinois, of the 2,278 statewide drug overdose deaths in 2016 (the most recent year in which all totals have been reported and calculated), 80 percent were opioid-related fatalities, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Also in 2016, 1,081 opioid-related overdose deaths occurred in Cook County, as reported by the county’s Department of Public Health. That total includes 741 in Chicago and 340 in suburban Cook.
And drug overdoses are now reportedly the number one cause of death in the U.S. for people under the age of 50.
Opioids, defined by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, are a class of drugs that include prescription pain relievers, as well as heroin and synthetic substances such as fentanyl. The opioid family also includes codeine and morphine.
Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths.
But local law enforcement and Emergency Medical Services personnel in 52 suburban communities are rescuing overdose victims, often from the brink of death, using an injectable drug made and donated by Kaleo pharmaceutical company in Richmond, Va.
“We now recognize that (addictions) to heroin and opioid prescription drugs have no boundaries,” said Sean Morrison, Cook County commissioner of the 17th District.
He was echoed by Chief Schofield.
“We used to think of heroin users as skid-row guys,” he said. “We found out they’re the kids next door.”
Schofield said “we’re seeing it with young athletes who had shoulder or knee surgery, being prescribed an opioid pain medication. After long-term use, they became addicted to it and when they couldn’t get it (any more), heroin is the cheap version.”
Morrison called a press conference Monday to kick off a round of training for a new group of south suburban police officers and to express gratitude to executives on hand from Kaleo, which has provided 300,000 injectable rescue kits nationally and more than 12,000 locally.
“In 2016 my office and the Orland Fire Protection District partnered together to create the Evzio Opiate Overdose Prevention Program,” said Morrison. “Through the generous grant provided by Kaleo, this program is independent of Cook County government, which means no additional taxpayer dollars (are being used) to administer this program.”
Morrison and Chief Schofield applied for, and received the grant which provided suburban police department the injector kits free of charge. Morrison said the grant has been renewed for 2018.
Each police officer typically carries two kits. Fire department personnel are also equipped. Morrison pointed out “police officers usually have a quicker response time to an overdose incident than EMS providers.”
Cook County Overdose Prevention Program data revealed that for the 123 victims saved in 2017, 183 doses were administered. The average age of the patients was 32. Schofield noted that in some cases, two doses had to be given to the same person, “because one isn’t enough. We’re seeing that now with fentanyl.”
Fentanyl, a synthetic form of heroin, is many times more powerful.
Morrison praised Chief Schofield for being “invaluable to the program, providing training, certification, maintenance of records and data, and the inventory.”
The boardroom at OFPD headquarters, 9790 W. 151st St., turned markedly quieter as Eric Edwards, M.D., Ph.D., stepped to the podium to provide a dry-run demonstration of the Evzio Auto-Injector.
Edwards is the co-inventor of the device. He is also Kaleo’s founder and vice president of Innovation, Development and Industrialization.
“Pull it out of its case and it talks you through what to do,” Edwards said. He held the device to the microphone.
“To inject, place black end against outer thigh,” the automated voice said. “Press firmly and hold in place for five seconds…5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Injection complete.”
“The goal is to enable anyone, even if you don’t have training or don’t remember the training, to be able to take competent, immediate action during that emergency,” he said.
Edwards, who became a paramedic at age 19 and still rides an ambulance once per month, said “this epidemic does not discriminate. It impacts adults, it impacts children. This is not going anywhere soon. It’s a very complex issue involving many variables.”
Deputy Chief Czajkowski of the Palos Heights PD said, “Unfortunately, these opiate addictions are on the rise. This (the injectable rescue kit) is another tool for us to have.”