Buffalo Grove heroin OD victim becomes namesake for federal law
The memory of a Stevenson High School graduate who died of a heroin overdose is now part of a national law.
Lali's Law, which President Barack Obama signed as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, will increase access to an opioid overdose reversal drug that helps save the lives of users who have stopped breathing.
The law sets aside $10.8 million nationwide to help states make naloxone available for sale at pharmacies. States can apply for $500,000 grants through the three-year program, which is designed to remove funding as an obstacle to making the overdose reversal drug more easily accessible for opioid users, their friends and relatives, treatment centers and law enforcement officials.
Illinois approved a state version of Lali's Law in September as part of the Heroin Crisis Act, and regional efforts -- especially in Lake and DuPage counties -- already have done much to make naloxone available to police officers and families of opioid users.
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said 97 lives have been saved in Lake by naloxone since December 2014.
"The saves started pouring in immediately," he said.
In DuPage County, roughly 180 lives have been saved since January 2014.
U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, who sponsored Lali's Law, praised those efforts Thursday during a roundtable discussion about the ongoing heroin problem at the anti-opioid advocacy nonprofit Live4Lali in Arlington Heights.
"This is a culmination of the work that's happened here on the ground ... to help save lives," said Dold, a Kenilworth Republican. "We're making naloxone easily available for individuals over the counter."
The federal version of Lali's Law went into effect immediately after Obama signed it July 22. States will apply for the grants through the federal department of Health and Human Services.
The law is named for Alex Laliberte of Buffalo Grove, who died of a heroin overdose in 2008 after becoming addicted to prescription opioids and heroin.
Laliberte's sister, Chelsea, founded Live4Lali in her sibling's memory. She said Thursday that providing greater access nationwide to naloxone will allow more people who overdose while fighting a drug addiction the ability to seek treatment.
"We just want people to have a chance," Laliberte said. "Because my brother didn't get the chance and a lot of people's family members didn't get the chance."
States such as Illinois that create naloxone access programs can make the drug available through a standing order, meaning pharmacists won't need a prescription from each customer. Pharmacists in states that seek Lali's Law grants will train naloxone customers on how to administer the medication if their loved one becomes unresponsive after using heroin or another powerful opioid painkiller such as OxyContin, Dilaudid or Vicodin.
Pharmacies including Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Target and Wal-Mart either have relaxed access to naloxone through their stores in dozens of states, or are making plans to do so.
The medication comes in injectable form, as an auto-injector similar to an EpiPen for stopping severe allergic reactions and as a nasal spray. Many insurance plans cover at least some form of naloxone, although the cost of the drug is increasing. Live4Lali has distributed 4,000 doses to suburban residents in roughly two years -- many of them as auto-injectors. But Laliberte said her organization is switching to nasal sprays because auto-injector costs have risen to $4,500 a kit.
Former drug users might need naloxone the most right when they leave rehab or jail, said Dr. Kenji Oyasu, an emergency room physician at Vista Health System in Lake County and executive medical director of Brightside treatment center in Northbrook. That's because overdose risk is highest after a period of abstinence. Taking the same amount of drugs will produce a stronger effect when the body's tolerance has been reduced.
Increasing access to naloxone is a strong step in the continued fight against heroin, Dold said, but treatment experts and former users say there's much more to be done.
Better referrals must connect users to treatment after they're revived using naloxone. More treatment slots must be created so users who take the step of calling to seek help for their addiction aren't told they must wait weeks or months.
Still, Laliberte's father said he is blown away by the amount of good that has come from his son's death at age 23 and his daughter's advocacy efforts.
"What started seven years ago as a glorified barbecue in memory of Alex has turned into national legislation," Gary Laliberte said. "It's mind-boggling to me."