Editorial: Moving beyond awareness of opioid crisis

"We want the community to know - If you are in need of help, just ask."

So said Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran in a Daily Herald report by staff writer Lee Filas showing that with two months to go in 2017, Lake County deputies already have used naloxone to revive an opiate-overdose victim more times than in 2015 and 2016 combined.

The county's 25th use of the anti-opiate drug came Friday to save the life of a 23-year-old man who overdosed inside a vehicle in Deer Park.

At this stage of a crisis decades in the making, such statistics hardly will surprise anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to the news. But they still are alarming. That Curran introduced his offer of help with a call to community awareness is evidence in itself that some people still aren't getting the message.

Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper reports in Filas' story that even with the rescues, overdose deaths in Lake County are trending upward in 2017, with 45 deaths so far and three suspected cases awaiting confirmation. To some degree, every county in the six-county region around Chicago is seeing similar trends. Lake County's latest rescue came a day after President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency.

This emergency clearly requires coordinated efforts among local, state and national agencies. It also requires constant awareness of our communities and all of us residents. Indeed, in a Facebook Live presentation last week posted by the PBS NewsHour, Brian Griffith, curriculum supervisor for secondary health and physical education with Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland, emphasized the simple role of family behavior.

"Family is the primary educator," Griffith said. "We know how important a healthy family dinner is where the TV is turned off and families actually communicate."

Resources are available to help, too. The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a free Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit that offers strategies for identifying opioid problems and preventing overdoses and deaths.

Local school districts are growing increasingly active in efforts to educate parents and students about the dangers of both illegal opioids like heroin and prescription pain killers. Northwest Suburban High School District 214, working in conjunction with the Link Together Coalition, has developed a series of lectures by Buffalo Grove High School student assistance coordinator Bob Leece called "What Every Parent Needs to Know" to help parents navigate questions about risky behaviors with their children. For information about the next class in the series, scheduled for next spring, contact the coalition by email at

In addition, the Live4Lali organization offers free naloxone trainings and dose kits at its walk-in clinic and also can schedule private trainings for organizations.

Lack of awareness, one would think, is not the issue anymore when it comes to opioid dangers.

Yet the continuing increase in deaths and rescues like those in Lake County are ever-present reminders that awareness alone isn't enough. We all have to think also in terms of actions, even if, to return to Curran's remarks, it's as simple as asking for help.

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