Opiate overdose reversal drug saves 25 lives in DuPage
Less than a week after receiving training, Hanover Park police officer Tim McNulty got a chance to put it to use.
Responding to a call of a heroin overdose, he and a fellow officer found a 29-year-old man unresponsive, sprawled on a bed.
"He was blue in the face, gasping for breath," McNulty said.
The officers quickly gave the man two nasal spray doses of Narcan, which reverses the effect of heroin and other opiates.
They could see the drug begin to counteract the effects of the heroin.
"He started to breathe a little more steadily," McNulty said. "We saw some eye movement. He began opening his eyes."
At that point, paramedics had arrived and started giving the man a dose of Narcan intravenously.
Today, he is one of 25 people that authorities say have been saved since a program began that made it possible for police officers in DuPage County to carry Narcan in their squad cars.
It's part of the county's multitiered effort to combat heroin, by training officers how to administer the drug. While paramedics long have been equipped to provide Narcan to overdose victims, the first police officers trained to use the drug were deployed in January.
"This story is a story about success," Hinsdale Police Chief Brad Bloom said during a Thursday morning news conference at the DuPage County Health Department building in Wheaton. "What started out with a simple idea of giving police officers a nasal spray that would immediately reverse the effects of a heroin overdose quickly was put into the hands of our officers. And it's resulted in 25 saves to date."
The countywide initiative was started in response to record number of heroin deaths last year when 46 people, including five teens, died from the drug.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said the Narcan program is a great example of how government agencies in the county collaborate to address a problem.
Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is a nonaddictive drug that counteracts the effects of opiates, including heroin and OxyContin.
Seeing the benefit of putting Narcan in the hands of police officers, the DuPage County Chiefs of Police Association teamed with Coroner Richard Jorgensen, the health department and other county leaders to develop the training program.
"More than 1,700 officers are now equipped so they can take immediate action at the scene of a potential overdose," Cronin said. "Twenty-five lives have been saved. I think we all agree we considered this program a success when the officers saved the first person's life."
In addition to the Narcan program, the DuPage Coalition Against Heroin has been formed to provide education and raise awareness in an effort to reduce the demand for drugs.
Law enforcement officials say heroin use is on the rise because the drug is cheaper and more pure than it used to be. As a result, first-time users no longer need to stick needles in their arms to try the drug, which is highly addictive.
"It's a very difficult drug to free yourself of," DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said. "It takes years and years of treatment, and there's relapses."
So while the criminal justice system isn't set up to deal with the heroin epidemic, Berlin said, authorities are doing what they can.
"We're getting defendants into treatment," he said. "We're trying to get rid of the heroin in this community."
In the meantime, the Narcan program is ensuring that trained officers are carrying two doses of the drug in their squad cars. The doses are delivered using a penlike canister that sprays the drug up a person's nostrils.
Looking back on what happened earlier this year in that Hanover Park bedroom, officer McNulty said the experience made him a believer in the Narcan program.
"In this case, someone's overdosing on a narcotic and you do something directly to bring them out of it," McNulty said. "You feel a little more empowered. It's safe and easy to administer."