Situated along the “Heroin Highway,” Burr Ridge has seen seven heroin overdoses, including one death, in the past five years.
Hoping to prevent heroin overdoses from becoming fatal, Burr Ridge officers now each carry naloxone (sold under the brand name Narcan), a drug that reverses the life-threatening effects of opiate overdoses.
“Overdose deaths can be prevented,” Police Chief John Madden said. “As first responders, we can use naloxone and an individual will snap out of an overdose.”
He said paramedics are not the only ones who need the antidote.
“We often times are first on the scene, beating the Fire Department,” Madden said, citing the rationale for officers carrying the drug.
Officers use naloxone as a nasal spray, putting half of the dosage into each of the victim’s nostrils.
Madden said the stretch of Interstate 55 between the suburbs and downtown Chicago has been labeled the Heroin Highway as suburban buyers venture into the city to make their purchases. The name is more commonly applied to Interstate 290.
He noted DuPage County now averages a heroin overdose every eight days. DuPage had 39 heroin overdoses in 2012 and 48 in 2013.
Madden said a lot of heroin users are former athletes.
“They have a sports injury and are prescribed pain killers,” Madden said. “The prescription runs out but the pain continues and they turn to heroin.”
The Village Board gave its approval this week to the county’s Department of Public Health providing village police officers with naloxone free of charge.
Each year in the United States, an estimated 15,000 people die of heroin/opiate overdoses. In July, DuPage County saw 18 overdose deaths.
It is an issue that is not going away anytime soon, said Gary Grasso, DuPage County Board member and former Burr Ridge mayor.
“Don’t hide your heads in the sand,” Grasso said, urging village trustees to use their “bully pulpit and connections” to reach out to community members and school officials to increase prevention efforts.
Grasso said DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin was approached recently at a community forum by a woman whose son was incarcerated.
“She thanked him for having her son in jail,” Grasso said. “She said having him in jail let her know that he would wake up and be alive in the morning. For seven years, she said, she had been afraid of getting a call (about her son overdosing).”
The Health Department sponsors the DuPage Narcan Program, putting up the initially $50,000 to get naloxone into the hands of first responders. The county added another $100,000 to the program, Grasso noted.
“And still that is a drop in the bucket,” he said,
He said while Narcan is a great life-saving effort, more attention and money needs to be spent on prevention.
“It is too late when the chief has to save a life,” Grasso said. “The number one priority of government has to be public safety.”
His wife, Janet Ryan Grasso, who serves as a village trustee, noted because of the affluence in Burr Ridge there is no telling how widespread the problem is.
“Sending kids to private schools and boarding schools is common here,” Trustee Grasso said. “In reality, that child could be gone because he or she is in rehab.”