Suburban heroin problem called "a medical emergency"

  • Kathie Kane-Willis holds up an Overdose Prevention Rescue Kit during an emergency heroin summit held over the weekend.

    Kathie Kane-Willis holds up an Overdose Prevention Rescue Kit during an emergency heroin summit held over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Illinois State Crime Commission

Updated 3/11/2013 1:31 PM

Identifying the suburban heroin problem as "a medical emergency," several public health and drug policy experts want to equip all first responders in Illinois with overdose rescue kits that each consist of a small syringe and a dose of the opiate overdose reversal drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan.

The idea for Overdose Prevention Rescue Kits was proposed Saturday during a "heroin summit" hosted by the Illinois State Crime Commission and attended by representatives from numerous suburban police departments, state's attorneys offices and county governments.


Joseph Troiani, director of behavioral health programs at the Will County Health Department, called the heroin problem "a medical emergency," according to a news release.

"It is an emergency. We could lose a whole generation of kids," added ISCC Director Jerry Elsner, noting more than 3,000 heroin overdoses were reported statewide last year, and saying the actual number probably is much higher. "The vast majority of heroin users are young, white suburbanites."

The proposal includes not just the kit, but a one-hour training session for police and other first responders, said Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University. The trained use of Narcan -- which also can treat overdose of opiate pain pills like oxycodone -- is already allowed by current law.

The number of kits needed, their exact cost, and who will pay for them remains undetermined. Those details will be firmed up once the ISCC can drum up statewide support for the concept, Elsner said. Later this month, he'll seek the endorsement for the idea from the Cook County Board and then state legislators.

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Elsner estimates the kits would cost around $20 each.

"That's 20 bucks to save a life," he said.

At the summit, Kane-Willis said it was eye-opening to hear police officers refer to the heroin problem as a "public health crisis."

"That's a new way of thinking about it," she said.

The summit also encouraged raising awareness of the state's new 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Law, enacted last year but still largely unknown to the public. The law grants immunity to anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose as long as he or she is not in possession of large amounts of drugs.

Kane-Willis stressed that the overdose kits are just one piece to a comprehensive approach to curbing the heroin problem and a relatively inexpensive way to try to reverse the growing numbers of heroin overdose deaths. When talking about the increased use of Narcan, Kane-Willis used the analogy of a house on fire.

"You need to think about why the house is on fire. But right now, the first thing you need to do is get people out," she said. "Right now, what we need to do more than anything else is to save those lives. There's an antidote, and we're not using it yet. There's no reason for anyone to die from a heroin overdose."

For more information on the Good Samaritan Law and its "Don't Run, Call 911" campaign, and information on how to obtain Naxolone, go to

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