By Mike Nolan
Wider access by police in the south and southwest suburbs to naloxone, which can revive someone suffering from an overdose of heroin or other opioids, resulted last year in 123 life-saving successes, officials said Monday at a news conference in Orland Park .
A program administered by Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, R- Palos Park, and the Orland Fire Protection District has trained and equipped police in 53 departments, including many in the Southland with naloxone, and comes two years after a state law took effect requiring all police to carry it.
Fire department paramedics have long carried the drug to administer at calls where an overdose is suspected, but getting naloxone in the hands of police, who might be the first to respond to such a call, ahead of paramedics, is seen as taking advantage of a "critical window of opportunity" in saving lives of people who have overdosed, Morrison said at the news conference, held at the fire protection district's administration center.
The commissioner said that police have saved people "literally from the brink of death" by administering naloxone.
According to Cook County officials, there were more than 1,000 deaths countywide last year related to opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone and carfentanil. Naloxone counteracts the life-threatening effects of an overdose, which slows the heart rate and respiration.
Morrison's office and the fire district were able to obtain a grant of 24,000 doses of naloxone through pharmaceutical company Kaleo. The grant was renewed, providing for an additional 1,000 doses, Morrison said.
Rather than police having to draw a dose using a syringe, Kaleo's product, called Evzio, is a cartridge smaller than a cell phone, and instead of having to read directions, the device itself "talks" the user through the injection process, which takes just a few seconds.
Earlier this month, Loyola Medicine and the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management announced a collaboration to train another 30 suburban police departments to use a nasal spray version of naloxone.
Michael Schofield, chief of the Orland fire district, said district paramedics respond to "several" medical calls monthly where an overdose is known or suspected. But, he noted, while paramedics are dispatched from a station, "police are out there all the time" and can respond more quickly.
"These seconds count," Schofield said. "Those 123 patients would not have made it."
The patients lived in the Southland and other portions of suburban Cook County.
Of departments that have gone through the training and have the Evzio injectors, police in Lansing recorded the most "saves" last year with 26. Worth was second, with 13, followed by Oak Forest, with nine, and Oak Lawn with eight, according to data collected by the fire district.
Lansing police officers would have to wait when responding to a suspected opioid overdose for fire department paramedics to arrive to administer naloxone, leaving police with a "helpless" feeling, Chief Dennis Murrin said at the news conference. Equipping police with naloxone "bridged that gap," he said.
"It's on the front lines every day," Murrin said.
As far as having double the number of saves of the next closest department on the list, the chief said the village's location along the Illinois-Indiana state line is likely a factor, and that police respond to a "lot of calls" for overdoses at hotels along Interstate 80/94.
Dr. Eric Edwards, a co-founder of Kaleo, said the company has donated more than 300,000 doses of naloxone to police departments and other agencies nationwide, noting many departments lacked the budget to equip personnel with it and there is "such a need across the country." He said that, nationally, more than 5,000 lives have been saved through use of the company's Evzio device.
John Roberts, who retired last year as chief of police for the Cook County Forest Preserve District, said his department was among the first locally to go through the training administered at Orland in using the Kaleo product.
He said he knew first-hand the benefits of naloxone, watching paramedics use it to revive his son, Billy, when the Lockport Township High School District 205 student was 18 and suffering a drug overdose.
His son subsequently died, in September 2009 at age 19 of a heroin overdose, leading Roberts and another father who lost his son to an overdose to form the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization. A nonprofit, HERO seeks to raise awareness of the use and abuse of heroin and opioid painkillers and provide support for families.
Roberts, who previously worked as a police officer in Chicago, described opioids as the "worst epidemic this nation has ever seen," although lives saved through the use of naloxone number "in the millions."