Durbin pushes for greater access to heroin overdose antidote
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin wants more first responders and community organizations to be able to get their hands on a drug that's been heralded as a lifesaving antidote to heroin overdoses.
Durbin, at a roundtable discussion Wednesday in Hoffman Estates with nonprofit leaders, medical professionals and recovering addicts, promoted federal legislation he introduced last week that would increase access to naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of opiate overdoses.
The bill would increase grant funding to public health agencies and community-based organizations to purchase and distribute naloxone and lead training seminars for law enforcement.
"What we've learned in Illinois is that these programs work. These programs save lives," Durbin said during the event at the Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital. "Community groups are on the front lines. It's critical the heroes, like many that are here today, have access."
One of the groups involved in training law enforcement and community members is Live 4 Lali, founded by Chelsea Laliberte following the heroin overdose death of her brother Alex in 2008. In March, the organization opened its first walk-in clinic in Arlington Heights, where people can be trained on how to use naloxone autoinjectors on someone who has overdosed.
"I'm actually thrilled we're here doing this because we've been fighting this for 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 years -- some of us -- to silence, to nobody listening to us, to having to beg people to consider what we're offering and saying: to look at addiction not as a moral issue, but as a medical disease," Laliberte said. "It should be treated like one. And I feel like now we're kind of getting there."
A number of police departments throughout the suburbs have begun equipping officers with naloxone, and reported successful outcomes in saving the lives of those who have overdosed.
In Schaumburg, officers began carrying a nasal spray with naloxone in January. A month later, an officer used it to treat a woman who had overdosed, and she regained consciousness minutes later.
Schaumburg Deputy Police Chief Dan Roach said there's a push to get more departments to use naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan.
"This is literally a lifesaver. It's not rocket science," Roach said. "It's a no-brainer nationwide."
Durbin also is trying to gain support for legislation that would lift a cap on the number of patients doctors can treat for heroin and prescription drug addiction. Current federal rules restrict physicians to treating up to 30 patients initially, and 100 per year after that.
Durbin said he believes the conversation about drug addiction is changing.
"We're in the suburbs talking about this. We're not in the inner city. I think the politics are going to follow the addiction," he said. "The reality of the moment is, I think we can move toward a more wholesome and honest conversation about this issue than we might have even 10 years ago, and it's because of the devastation you're seeing across America."