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New weapon in fight against heroin overdoses

Firefighter-paramedic Curt Stewart holds Naloxone Hydrochloride injectiwhich has generic name Narcan an ambulance Joliet Fire StatiJoliet Illinois Friday April 6

Firefighter-paramedic Curt Stewart holds a Naloxone Hydrochloride injection, which has a generic name of Narcan, in an ambulance at Joliet Fire Station in Joliet, Illinois, Friday, April 6, 2012. Paramedics use Narcan to treat heroin overdoses. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 16, 2014 6:34AM



With 45 confirmed cases of heroin deaths in 2013, DuPage County remains at the epicenter of this drug’s grip in our suburbs. So it comes as no surprise that law enforcement agencies there are pushing the envelope in the battle against this scourge.

But the latest effort is not about making arrests or enforcing laws. It’s strictly about saving lives.

Earlier this week, DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba announced that his office is the first sheriff’s department in Illinois to carry the drug Narcan — also known as Naloxone — in its squad cars. In doing so, all 92 deputies — who are often on the scene even before paramedics arrive, he noted — will be able to administer this drug, which can reverse an otherwise fatal overdose.

Working with the DuPage County Health Department, Zaruba’s office and other DuPage law enforcement agencies created this pilot program, DuPage Narcan Program (DNP), which was initiated by the members of the county’s Chiefs of Police Association.

DuPage sheriff spokesperson Dawn Domrose said officers have been trained in how to administer this heroin antagonist, which blocks opiates from the opioid receptors in the brain. Those trainers, she added, will in turn teach others how to use the drug.

Over the last couple of years, heroin use has been described as a medical emergency in our communities, with the vast majority of users being young suburbanites. And in 2013, public health and drug policy experts have been praising the benefits of these overdose rescue kits, which contain a small syringe and dose of the drug.

Putting this drug in the hands of first responders and anyone else who could possibly save another life — including heroin addicts, their families and friends — also has become the crusade of parents such as Caroline Kacena, whose son John died from heroin use in 2012, and Lea Minalga of St. Charles, who founded Hearts of Hope, a not-for-profit drug and alcohol prevention group, after her son became addicted to heroin at age 16.

“We are fighting every day to get this drug out of our community, but this new program will help us with those who are still battling the addiction,” said Zaruba in a press release announcing the program.

“It is my hope that the results of this ‘pilot’ program will expand the use of this life-saving procedure to all law enforcement agencies, in every county throughout the state of Illinois,” he said.

Lt. Pat Gengler said the sheriff’s department in Kane County has recently begun looking into providing deputies with Narcan, calling it a “potential tool for the agency.”

This week, Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez talked to Minalga, Gengler added, and feels “it is something that has some real potential.”

Certainly, it is noteworthy that, more and more, law enforcement groups are stepping outside conventional roles to combat this problem. That’s because police know there is nothing conventional about this epidemic. It’s going to take a whole community to fight it with education, prevention — and now intervention.

And while there are critics who argue Narcan could encourage users who know there is a safety net available if they begin to overdose, the bottom line is finding ways to keep them from winding up on a slab at the morgue.

“It’s a great program,” said Domrose, “because it does save lives.”



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