Editorial: Arlington Hts. nonprofit fights to save heroin addicts, one naloxone injector at a time

In a nondescript little office on the north side of Arlington Heights, history is being made in the war on heroin overdose. For the first time, the lifesaving drug naloxone is being put directly into the hands of ordinary people who often are at the front lines of the war on heroin but don't always know where they can find help in the suburbs - the parents, siblings or friends of addicts.

It's a natural follow-up to what police are already doing - every month it seems, more officers are carrying naloxone on the job. Police officers are often the first responders to overdose crises and so far in 2015, DuPage County has saved the lives of 16 overdose victims. In 2014 they saved 32 lives altogether, so you can see the pattern.

If you've read the Daily Herald's Heroin in the Suburbs series, you know that the scourge is an incredibly human story - of loss and grief, of salvation and redemption, of fear and hope. You know that heroin isn't just a problem of the ghetto; it's in our towns, our neighborhoods, our homes, our lives.

The people behind Live 4 Lali, the nonprofit that rents the storefront, have all been there. They have deeply personal reasons for wanting to get naloxone and the appropriate training into the hands of people who need it. Naloxone injectors cost $300 apiece; these will be free.

Talk about shining a spotlight on an issue. And in bright, stark light, not everything looks pretty.

An argument can be made - will be made - that giving addicts a convenient solution if they screw up will make heroin use seem less risky.

We can't claim to know what goes on in the minds of heroin addicts. We do know that Live 4 Lali intends to help whoever walks in the door. That includes giving counseling and referrals to addicts who want to quit; giving naloxone and training to parents and siblings of addicts; and yes, giving naloxone to addicts who come in and say, I'm not ready to get clean, but I don't want to die.

Too many already have. Lake County had 38 heroin-related deaths in 2014. Will County had 35; DuPage County had 33; Kane County had 22 and McHenry County 12. Suburban Cook County had 101 heroin-related deaths in 2014, according to provisional numbers.

Chelsea Laliberte and her mother started Live 4 Lali in memory of her brother, Alex, a Stevenson High School graduate who died of a heroin overdose in 2008.

"We're trying to change the culture" toward addiction," she said this week. "We are expecting people from all walks of life to come in. Addiction doesn't discriminate."

The goal is simple. Get every addict cured, make heroin a thing of the past. But to do that, first they have to stay alive.

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