The trainers have been trained and soon police officers in 32 Lake County communities will be equipped and ready to administer an antidote for opioid overdoses, including heroin.
"This is something, quite simply, we know will save lives," Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said Tuesday to officially launch the naloxone program.
Top cops from several jurisdictions and others who have been affected by what Nerheim said is an "epidemic" of overdoses and deaths joined him at the Mundelein Police Department to discuss what was described as one the few programs of its kind in the U.S.
About 1,700 police officers in DuPage County in January were deployed with the antidote drug, and as of mid-October it had saved 25 lives. Lake and DuPage are the only countywide programs in Illinois, Nerheim said.
"This is just the right thing to do," Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther said. He and Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko co-chaired the law enforcement subcommittee of the multipronged Lake County Opioid Initiative that started a year and a half ago. "No matter who this happens to, somebody out there loves that person."
The initiative also includes aggressive prosecution of drug dealers coupled with an emphasis on treatment and education, Nerheim said.
Police officers, who generally are first on the scene of an overdose, will have access to three types of delivery systems for naloxone: nasal mist, a needle and syringe, and an automatic injector called EVZIO. The Lake County Health Department last week received 3,000 hand-held injectors, which contain two doses each. That part of the arsenal represented a $1.4 million donation from Virginia-based kaleo Inc.
"It will talk to you and tell you how to use it," said Tony Beltran, executive director of the Lake County Health Department. "You actually never see the needle or touch the needle."
Medline Industries Inc. donated retractable syringes to the initiative.
"This whole program will be administered at little if any cost to the taxpayers," Nerheim said.
According to the Lake County coroner's office, 59 cases investigated in 2013 were a direct result of substance abuse. That is a 25 percent decrease from the 81 deaths in 2012, but authorities say the need for services remains acute.
"There's really no community that hasn't suffered and lost lives," Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said. "Ultimately, it is a toxic drug and it's killing people left and right."
Chelsea A. Laliberte, whose Live4Lali Inc. provides free community naloxone and drug education, said the opioid initiative breaks down social barriers and gives addicts an opportunity for treatment. Laliberte formed the Lake Zurich charitable organization in memory of her brother, Alex.
"Because of the stigma, a lot of people don't want to talk about it," said Terri Bartlett, a McHenry resident who is the operations director for Live4Lali. Bartlett's son, Mike, died of a heroin overdose Sept. 2, 2012. "It's not the dirty guy under the bridge anymore. It's everywhere. It's in every neighborhood."