Kane County Health Department officials want to follow in the footsteps of a plan piloted by neighboring DuPage County and equip local police officers with a drug that can reverse a heroin overdose in progress.
Kane County officials will investigate how interested local police departments are in participating in the program this month in preparation for a training program the county will offer during the summer. Barb Jeffers, health department executive director, said departments that participate will receive training for a handful of officers, who then can educate their peers. Once trained, each officer will carry two doses of a drug commercially known as Narcan.
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Officers would administer the Narcan via a nasal spray. The drug acts by blocking receptors in the brain that opiates, such as heroin, attach to. Each time an officer uses a dose, he or she would have to report the incident to the county health department to receive a replacement.
Jeffers said using the health department as the permanent distributor will allow the county to track overdoses and the effectiveness of having police officers carry an overdose antidote.
Saving a life with Narcan is only the first step of the process, Jeffers said. The drug can't simply be a safety net for drug addicts. There must be follow-up through hospitals, school and community organizations to ensure the person who was saved doesn't engage in further drug use, she said.
"We have to convince our education partners that we have to have some kind of campaign where we work collectively together," Jeffers said. "It takes all of us to address this problem. If you look at the data, it's not going away. We can't put our heads in the sand. We have to address this issue before it gets away from us."
Statistics indicate heroin use is becoming more popular and more lethal in Kane County. Seventy-four residents died from overdoses between 2009 and 2013. Aurora and Elgin, the county's two largest cities, were home to 53 of those deaths. The number of deaths per year doubled between 2009 and 2013.
Narcan, also known as Naloxone, isn't a new drug. It was invented in the 1960s, and hospitals and paramedics have used it for decades.
DuPage County announced last year it would offer training to sheriff's deputies. That occurred in November, and deputies are expected to begin carrying the drug this month. The idea of training police to administer the drug stems from them often being the first responders to situations involving drug overdoses.
That's exactly why Kane County Sheriff's deputies recently began carrying Narcan, However, no deputy has administered the drug in the field yet.
If Jeffers' plan sticks to the current timetable, other Kane County police officers will begin carrying Narcan by the end of July.