Federal funding to help DuPage expand opioid overdose help

An opioid overdose reversal effort that has saved 344 people in five years will be expanded in DuPage County, thanks to a $1.5 million federal grant, health officials said Tuesday.

The county will put the money toward the DuPage Narcan Program, which has provided training and overdose reversal drugs to first responders at 55 organizations inside county borders and nearby. Using Narcan, a medication that counteracts opioid overdoses, responders have saved 105 people this year and 344 since 2013.

The federal funds, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will allow the county to buy replacement doses of Narcan and to begin follow-up contacts by social workers who can help revived patients seek treatment, said Mila Tsagalis, community initiatives director for the DuPage County Health Department.

The goal is to have social workers contact revived drug users who may need help understanding and accessing addiction treatment options, said DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen, who helped establish the Narcan program.

"And then the next need, which is obvious, is to try to be able to offer help to them," Jorgensen said, "so that they don't have the addiction any longer."

Taxpayers could benefit from helping people overcome addiction because of how many publicly funded systems addicts use - from police to the courts, prosecutors, jails and prisons, Jorgensen said.

"A large majority of the crime in a place like DuPage County is related to addiction," he said.

The grant is significant because it infuses new money into the DuPage Narcan Program, which Jorgensen said ran out of local funding last year. He said that meant the county had to ask police departments to use their own resources to buy enough Narcan for officers. Some had trouble finding the cash.

"This will help us keep everyone funded with adequate supplies of Narcan," Jorgensen said.

The grant also will fund the county's Rx Box program, which began in 2009 and offers 16 drop-off sites for unwanted prescriptions. Tsagalis said the program has collected 42 tons of medications since it started, helping to keep drugs away from people who might misuse them. Many of the boxes are at police stations across DuPage, such as the sheriff's headquarters in Wheaton.

The grant for DuPage County is part of $144.1 million administered nationwide as part of the First Responders-Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016.

It comes as the county continues to battle an opioid epidemic that has resulted in 42 deaths this year, after 78 deaths in 2016 and 51 in 2015.

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