Opioid task force to get $200K from DuPage County, where such overdoses are up 17%

A purple van pulls up to a West Chicago church on a Saturday morning, carrying the anti-overdose drug naloxone, fentanyl test strips and support for people with substance use disorders.

It wouldn't have been possible without a new partnership between nonprofit groups on the front lines of the other epidemic in DuPage County and a task force created to combat it.

Next year, the Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Taskforce will receive $200,000 from the county — double its previous budget — to steer toward community-based programs like the mobile outreach van.

The funding boost comes amid the worsening toll of the opioid crisis.

Last year, 112 people died from opioid overdoses in DuPage, a grim record and an increase of 17% compared to the 96 reported in 2019.

Through October of this year, 175 opioid overdoses have been reversed with Narcan, an opiate antidote, according to the DuPage Narcan program, which trains police officers on how to administer the medication. There were 194 “saves” using Narcan in 2020.

Statewide, nearly 3,000 Illinois residents died from fatal overdoses involving opioids last year, up almost 33%. State and county officials have not yet released year-end figures for overdose deaths in 2021.

But by the end of July, the DuPage coroner's office had handled 56 overdose deaths. Toxicology reports are detecting multiple formulations of fentanyl in fatal drug cocktails.

“You'll see that not only are the number of overdoses increasing, but they're getting more complex,” DuPage Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala said during a recent presentation to the county board.

The task force — a joint operation of the health department and county board — plans to announce the first round of new grant funding in February. The group includes specialists in mental health, addiction treatment and law enforcement and supplements other efforts working against the scourge of opioids.

“We're trying to find programs that have not gotten funding, and that have shown quite a bit of promise,” said county board member Greg Hart, co-chairman of the task force. “Give them the seed money that they need to get up and running and then hopefully have them be sustainable moving forward. And luckily, we've had a number of projects that have actually won national recognition for this effort.”

This year, the nonprofit Hope for Healing received $32,000 to partner with Live4Lali and Inspiration Outreach on a mobile harm reduction program in DuPage.

The purple van delivers safe use supplies, including fentanyl test strips that can detect whether drugs are laced with the powerful synthetic opioid, to help reduce overdose risk. Outreach workers link people with treatment and recovery services. The van has rolled out to St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago.

“They provide outreach and support on Saturdays during their food distribution and have already served over 100 individuals,” Ayala said.

With a $31,000 grant this year, NAMI DuPage offered a twice-a-month peer support group for people newly diagnosed with both mental health and substance use disorders.

Chicago-based Haymarket Center received $37,000 for a recovery coach/drug counselor to help recently and soon-to-be-released inmates at the county jail access treatment and recovery supports, including counseling, transportation and “other very tangible, very real needs,” Ayala said.

In addition, the task force awarded $25,000 to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital to add hours to a program that connects patients to community providers that can help with finding sober living and transportation to and from appointments.

The task force is next scheduled to meet Jan. 28.

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