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posted: 3/12/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Overdose-reversal drug a must-have

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If a drug were available that, with training, would be easily administered and could save the life of someone perilously close to dying, would you expect law enforcement officers to have it and use it when necessary?

The answer, obviously, is yes. And that's what local and national law enforcement and health leaders are working toward in the ongoing battle against heroin.

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On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said what we've known here in the Chicago suburbs for some time: Heroin overdoses are an "urgent public health crisis."

According to a Reuters story, Holder said more law enforcement agencies need to be trained and equipped with an overdose-reversal medication called Narcan or Naloxone. Closer to home, a forum last month was held by staff members of U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat, to raise awareness of the lifesaving drug.

And DuPage County is leading the state in training officers to administer it. Officials told Daily Herald staff writer Robert Sanchez last month that they expect 1,244 officers from 26 departments to be trained and deployed with Narcan by May. That's welcome news, especially in a county that saw a record 46 heroin deaths last year -- including five teens.

"It (Narcan) absolutely brings someone back to life who is on the verge of death," said Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, at the forum in Naperville.

"Most people aren't aware of Naloxone and what it can do," said Jim Scarpace, program director at Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment in Aurora. "It's something we feel strong about supporting because we know the benefit of being able to administer it and its ability to save lives."

According to Holder, 17 states (including Illinois) and the District of Columbia have amended their laws to increase access to the drug. In fact, in Illinois, anyone -- even those without medical training -- can administer the drug, which is injected into muscle or inhaled as a nasal spray.

While the major effort currently is to get law enforcement personnel trained, we agree with Karen Hanneman of Naperville, who told staff writer Marie Wilson that parents should get trained to administer the drug as well.

"It's a very sensible thing to have," said Hanneman, whose own son struggled with drug addiction and died of a heroin overdose at age 21 in 2011. "If you have a loved one that struggles with opiate addiction in your house, you need to have it."

Since training began in DuPage County, an officer has saved a heroin overdose victim. All police departments -- and parents worried about their own children -- should take the steps necessary now to save even more lives in the future.

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