Kane County to spend $100,000 more on naloxone to fight overdoses
Kane County will spend another $100,000 to order more than 2,000 additional doses of naloxone, a drug used to save the lives of people overdosing on heroin and prescription painkillers.
County health officials said opioid addiction is at "epidemic" levels, but there are few opportunities to keep residents from getting hooked or getting them off the drugs.
"Right now, we're just trying to prevent deaths," said Barb Jeffers, the executive director of the public health department. "For sure, without this naloxone medication, our death rate will go up."
The county coroner's office reports about one opioid death per week, on average, so far this year. That trend will outpace last year's record number 36 opiate deaths. Jeffers said the county's initiative, started in 2014, to place two doses of naloxone in every local police officer's hands has resulted in less than five deaths on drug overdose calls where police are first responders.
The more significant problem is what happens before and after those overdoses. At the hospital, overdose patients may get referred to an addiction treatment center if they have insurance to pay for such a facility. People on Medicaid have fewer options, Jeffers said. The problem is especially severe in Kane County where there are few rehab facilities.
"Funding, funding, funding," Jeffers said. "It all comes back to that. Nationally, funding for mental illness is way down. The rehab centers we do have, especially the not-for-profits, are really struggling financially."
DuPage County's program to provide a branded form of naloxone called Narcan to first responders began in 2013 and has saved 344 lives as of last month, health officials said. The program, which has distributed the overdose reversal drug to 55 organizations in and near the county, recently received a $1.5 million federal grant to help buy replacement doses.
Kane County has two initiatives in motion to address the front end of the problem -- preventing addiction in the first place. The health department has a grant that will allow it to take its drug addiction education program into schools to educate high school students and their parents.
Young athletes are at higher risk. Sports injuries often result in pain medication prescriptions. If an athlete gets hooked and loses the ability to refill an opioid prescription, the black market takes over.
"Our No. 1 contributing source of overdoses is opioid medication, not heroin," Jeffers said. "When you can't get the medication, heroin is the next step."
Addiction also fuels homelessness and criminal activity, she said. That's where the county's drug court comes into play.
The program, funded by the county's share of riverboat gambling proceeds, offers defendants whose criminal behavior is linked to drug abuse the option of treatment or jail. All participants receive random drug testing at least twice a week, must complete treatment, frequently appear in court for checkups and must secure employment.
About 750 people have gone through the county's drug court program since 2000. It has a greater than 80 percent success rate in seeing graduates of the program avoid future arrest, Jeffers said.
Kane County is also working with two outside law firms to file a lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers.