$1 million fed grant to help DuPage study, fight opioid addiction

DuPage County plans to start an opioid fatality review team to see if it can find common factors in overdose deaths and identify risk factors that lead to opioid abuse.

The work is part of a coordinated initiative to fight opioid drug abuse that has received a $1.1 million federal Bureau of Justice Assistance grant, county officials said Monday.

"Data and knowing the data and knowing the problem is very essential to opening our eyes to this problem," Coroner Richard Jorgensen said.

The DuPage County Health Department is the lead agency for the grant. The sheriff's department and coroner's office are the other partners.

Jorgensen said the death-review team will include an epidemiologist, which is a person who studies the incidence, distribution and control of diseases and other factors relating to health.

Jorgensen said he has been collecting and reporting information informally to the county board, since 2013. The grant funding will pay for a part-time data specialist and a project coordinator from the health department.

"Without proper data, we're not really able to get a handle on this," Jorgensen said.

Better data should help policymakers and community members make decisions on dealing with the opioid situation, Joregensen said. There were 98 opioid-related deaths in DuPage County in 2018, according to a news release he issued earlier this year.

Roughly 20% of the grant will go to the opioid fatality review team project.

The rest will be for adding medication-assisted treatment for jail detainees who are addicted to opioids, according to Chris Hoff, the health department's community health resources director.

Detainees will be evaluated by a psychiatrist or an advanced practice nurse to see what medicine to use. The program would use Vivitrol and Suboxone to help control urges to use opioids.

Vivitrol is a once-a-month injection that blocks opioid receptors in the brain. If a person then uses opioids, the effects, such as pain relief or a feeling of well-being, are blocked. It is used after a person has undergone detoxification.

Suboxone, an opioid medication, also reverses the effects of opioids and helps with withdrawal.

The program also would connect detainees with counselors and therapists in the community to continue treatment after they have been released from the jail.

"This is really filling a void," Sheriff James Mendrick said, noting that 80% of the jail's detainees have issues with alcohol or drug abuse. "This is going to be a big difference for some of our people in DuPage County."

The medication treatment program and the opioid death review team will begin operating Jan. 1.

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority will review the programs.

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