Moving beyond naloxone to save addicts

About 840 times, first responders in the collar counties have administered naloxone to people who'd overdosed on opioids and appeared to have plunged into death.

In most of those cases, the person started breathing again, revived by a drug that came into routine use in the suburbs beginning four years ago and still seems miraculous to those who are alive because of it, and to their families.

Yet, even as hundreds were saved, hundreds continue to die in the suburbs.

As a way to take the next step toward reducing the tide of opioid deaths, some experts are zeroing in on what happens after someone is revived. Naloxone does not cure addiction, they pointed out to the Daily Herald's Marie Wilson in her story on Sunday.

"An hour or two later, the cravings return. We've got to find out how to identify people and treat them so they don't take that next deadly hit," Dr. Michael Wahl, medical director of the Illinois Poison Center, said.

We echo that call for heightened intervention beginning in the first hours after an addict arrives by ambulance at a suburban ER. Often addicts are stabilized and, when no longer acutely ill, sent home.

Hospitals like Advocate Good Samaritan in Downers Grove are working on procedures to pair an addiction specialist with revived overdose patients in the emergency department, with a goal of linking patients to an outpatient clinic where they can start medication-assisted treatment.

The DuPage County sheriff's office has begun sending deputies with clinicians to follow up with people who have been revived.

It's an obvious strategy, though with some hurdles. Treatment programs are in short supply and medication-assisted treatment can be controversial. Yet, in an election year when every candidate is introducing a plan to deal with opioid addiction, let's make this an area where we can progress.

At the same time, we need more consistent and complete collection and sharing of data about how well interventions work and about the naloxone programs themselves. Many jurisdictions in the suburbs are tracking naloxone doses administered and how many result in survival, but they rarely chart the number of people who are revived repeatedly.

It's thought to be a minority - Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper says 175 to 200 individuals were treated in the county's 223 naloxone uses - but getting the exact data is an important part of understanding the opioid addiction epidemic and the ways to stop it.

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