(Chicago, IL) – DuPage County in July added itself to the list of Illinois counties where heroin deaths are occurring at a record pace, with at least 15 fatalities this month alone. In Winnebago County, 41 people died from a heroin overdose in 2012 – nearly double the overdose deaths in 2011.
These fatalities reflect the havoc that heroin is wreaking across the country. Heroin has killed more than 3,000 Americans annually since 2007, exceeding the 1,800 to 2,200 people who died each year from heroin overdoses between 1999 and 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a preventable public health crisis,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez, “and it is made all the more tragic when known responses are not being implemented.”
For example, Illinoisans must be aware of what is called the Good Samaritan law that was signed by Governor Pat Quinn last year. Under this law, a person can take an overdose victim to an emergency room or can call 911 without fear of being charged with possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.
“What this means,” said Rodriguez, “is that if someone has overdosed on a drug, there are protections in place for those who call for help.”
In addition, says Rodriguez, there are extremely effective medications that can prevent and treat overdose from heroin and other types of opiates. Emergency medical professionals can prescribe naloxone, or Narcan®, to reverse an opioid overdose.
“Research and direct experience tell us that naloxone literally saves lives,” said Rodriguez. “And yet we’re seeing heroin deaths skyrocket in Illinois. There’s a missed connection between what is known about heroin overdose and what’s being done, and that missed connection is costing lives.”
The likelihood for drug overdose is extremely elevated immediately following release from jail and prison. When a person has been away from the drug for weeks or months—due to incarceration or even participation in a residential treatment program—then a return to the same drug can be fatal. Proactive, coordinated interventions are vital. (See Madison County success story on page 4 of TASC’s Spring 2013 News & Views.)
As with any public health crisis, said Rodriguez, effective responses include education, prevention, timely intervention, and treatment. However, the State of Illinois has all but leveled prevention funding since 2009, and treatment funding has been cut by a third.
“This tragedy has been unfolding in Illinois for several years,” said Rodriguez, “and we are seeing the consequences of the massive cuts to prevention and treatment funding.
“But that is no reason to give up,” she added. “There are answers to this crisis and we won’t stop fighting it until the funerals stop.”
Please see www.StopOverdoseIL.org for more information.