Thursday, February 1, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Local officials during a Feb. 1 press conference held in Maywood to announce the roll out of a program that will equip 1,900 officers in Cook County with Narcan. | VFP
When Bellwood Police Chief Jimenez Allen was asked to take advantage of a program that would train his officers to administer Narcan nasal spray and that would provide a supply of the medication at no cost to his department, he jumped at the chance.
Narcan, designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, has become an increasingly prevalent tool among law enforcement officials across the country in the fight against the opioid epidemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 and preliminary data indicates that last year the number of deaths was even higher.
Now, according to reports, even high schools are stocking up on a medication that authorities believe is one of the most potent weapons in the attempt to save the lives of those who have overdosed.
“On Nov. 22, my officers got fitted with the nasal spray, went out on the street and saved two lives on the first day,” Allen said during a Feb. 1 press conference at the Maywood Multipurpose Building, 200 S. 5th Ave.
“The next day, they saved another life. So, this has been a very important addition to our department,” he added. “When minutes make the difference, it means the world to have the ability to save lives and not just stand around and wait for the fire department.”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, flanked by roughly a dozen law enforcement officials from area police departments, local elected officials and medical professionals, explained that the program that trained and equipped Allen’s officers was the result of a $311,000 Edward Burn Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.
Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins thanked the other partnering governments and institutions on their work with implementing the program, which she and other officials said is much needed in the suburbs.
Loyola Medicine and the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) partnered to administer the grant program, which will cover 30 police departments in Cook County, as well as the Cook County Sheriff’s Department and Cook County Forest Preserve Police.
In all, at least 1,900 officers in area departments will start regularly carrying dosages of the life-saving nasal spray.
According to William Barns, the DHSEM’s executive director, said that the grant funded over 5,000 units of Narcan. Each unit, he said, is less than $50 a piece.
During Thursday’s press conference, Preckwinkle described the program as a necessary antidote to a public health crisis that is “killing our residents at breakneck speed.”
“The opioid epidemic in this country has taken a staggering toll. The number of lives lost in this country rises with each passing day,” the board president said. “Cook County is not immune to this crisis and the statistics prove it.”
Two 4 milligram units of Narcan, which area police officers have started to carry around regularly. | VFP
Preckwinkle said that the Cook County medical examiner’s office logged more than 1,000 opioid deaths in 2017 — three times more than the number of fatalities from car accidents or murders that were logged during that year.
She added that the county logged around 5,000 opioid-related emergency visits in 2016, up from just 1,000 in 2006.
“I-290 has been viewed as heroin highway and it runs right through my district,” said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), who added that the new program will “save additional lives.”
Mark Cichon, Loyola’s chairman of emergency medicine, said that between 2015 and 2017, the hospital experienced a 150 percent increase in emergency room visits related to heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone and other opioids.
Cichon said that medical experts sometimes have a hard time diagnosing patients with opioid-related symptoms, since ailments associated with opioid use are often so disparate — ranging from vomiting to speech changes to insomnia.
He added that many patients have died or suffered permanent brain damage because of an emergency response that could have been expedited by properly trained and equipped first responders.
“The risk of society delaying immediate care to these patients are great,” he said. “They need antidotes now, not in two minutes when the ambulance arrives. We have too often seen patients who didn’t receive Narcan in time.”
Cichon said that the Narcan nasal spray offers a more effective dosage than the over the counter version, since it is administered through the patient’s nose, allowing the medication to be absorbed more quickly while triggering a milder reaction than would be the case with an injection.
The spray also eliminates the complications of using needles, he added, and is safe for adults and children.
Cichon said that police officers are trained not only on how to administer the spray, but also on how to recognize an opioid overdose and opioid withdrawal symptoms.
The $311,000 grant program, officials said, applies a standard of care across suburban police departments that didn’t exist in 2015, when Springfield passed a law requiring police officers to be trained in administering, and to carry, Narcan.
At the time of its passage, the state mandate was unfunded and did not stipulate how local police departments would be able to comply with that requirement.
“It was great legislation, but it lacked some things administratively,” said Mario DePasquale, the McCook police chief and president of the West Suburban Chiefs of Police Association.
“There were no guidelines as to what we should buy and carry, or how we would pay for this,” he said. “We didn’t have any answers.”
DePasquale said that with the help of Loyola, his department implemented a Narcan program of its own. This new grant program, he said, will allow other local police departments that have not implemented similar programs to be brought up to speed.
As a result, there will be greater uniformity in emergency treatment of opioid overdoses across suburban Cook County, DeSpaquale added.
“We are taking responsibility to oversee this program, so that now everyone is on the same page,” said Barns. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Lyons, McCook, Bellwood or Maywood. Officers will have the same training, the same equipment.” VFP
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