A uniform statewide system that tracks drug overdoses could help Illinois address widespread heroin use in the suburbs, a local lawmaker says.
While exact details of the program have not been finalized, a proposal to create such a system would be part of a larger legislative package that's in the works right now aimed at combating heroin use, state Rep. Sam Yingling of Grayslake said.
The system, which would track the location and details of Illinois overdoses, would alleviate some of the difficulties of working with various counties that track drug overdoses differently. Some counties, for example, lump all heroin overdoses together, while others differentiate between heroin overdoses and overdoses that involve a combination of heroin and other drugs.
"There's incredible frustration when collecting sufficient data on overdoses," Yingling said. "A new system would put into place unified definitions of what defines a heroin overdose versus a heroin and prescription drug overdose."
While a new tracking system has yet to be formally introduced, Yingling says legislation will be introduced this year.
The idea for a uniform tracking system comes out of a report drafted in summer 2014 by Illinois' Young Adult Heroin Use Task Force. While the task force recommends continued education on the dangers of heroin, several new pieces of legislation have been introduced to directly help individuals who are overdosing.
State Sen. Michael Connelly, a Lisle Republican, introduced legislation that would place Narcan, an opiate antidote, in schools across the state.
With heroin use on the rise in the suburbs, Connelly says having Narcan available in schools would be valuable in DuPage County, where 32 lives were saved by Narcan in 2014.
"The state's attorney's office and the coroner came to me and said we need this in schools, that there are circumstances when we need Narcan available," Connelly said.
Narcan is a trademarked version of the opiate antidote naloxone. The drug can be injected with a needle or used as a nasal spray to reverse the effects of an overdose, including slow breathing, sedation and low blood pressure.
When it comes to the cost of arming Illinois schools with Narcan, Connelly says "to the extent that it costs money, I think it is well spent."
The Lake County Sheriff's Department made its first naloxone rescue Feb. 2. The man, who was unresponsive when officers arrived, began breathing again after Deputy Amanda Fusco used a department-issued auto-injector to administer the drug.
Schaumburg police saved their first life with Narcan Feb. 17 after a police officer gave an unconscious 23-year-old woman who overdosed on heroin the prescribed amount of the drug.
Yingling also introduced a proposal that would protect first responders who administer the naloxone to someone who seems to be overdosing. While the drug does not produce negative side effects if given to someone who is not overdosing, first responders can be leery of administering it when the situation is unclear.
Yingling's proposal would formally extend the Good Samaritan Act to those first responders, said Yingling.
"Overall, there's a hesitation to administer a substance via needle not knowing that they are formally protected," Yingling said.
While the entire package of changes is still under wraps, educating young adults on the effects of heroin use will also be a goal of the new legislation.
State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, and Yingling agree that Illinois needs to start addressing the heroin issue and implementing new policies.
"We have an increasing problem with heroin, and every day we don't act, it's a day we're not saving lives," Lang said.