Police consider heroin antidote, two towns already equipped

Cassandra Wingert of Western Srings demonstrates how to fill a syringe with nalaxone to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. | Jane Michaels/Sun-Times Media
Cassandra Wingert of Western Srings demonstrates how to fill a syringe with nalaxone to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. | Jane Michaels/Sun-Times Media

Heroin overdose victims could stand a better chance of survival under plans being considered by area police departments to equip officers with naloxone.

Western Springs and LaGrange Park are actively exploring efforts to train police and provide them with nasal spray versions of naloxone. Also known as Narcan, the drug blocks the effects of heroin and stimulates breathing again in users who have lost consciousness.

“Is there a need for it? Oh, absolutely,” said LaGrange Park Chief Daniel McCollum. “I can’t see a reason not to do it.”

Countryside police already have trained and provided officers with an injectable version of the life-saving drug, said Chief Joseph Ford. Naloxone and syringes have been made available at no charge to the department through the Chicago Recovery Alliance.

“One of our aldermen, Sean McDermottt, brought the program to my attention, and I jumped on it,” Ford said. “It’s absolutely free, and it saves lives. It’s a no-brainer.”

Ford said opiate overdoses have replaced vehicular crashes as the leading cause of death nationwide among teens and adults 16 to 35 years old.

“There is not a large apparent opiate addiction problem that we know of in Countryside, though we have responded to calls of opiate overdoses,” he said.

Chief John Madden said Burr Ridge police have been trained and equipped to use the nasal spray version of Narcan since March through the DuPage County Health Department. Police haven’t been called to use it yet.

“In the past five years we’ve had seven overdose cases. All were adults,” Madden said. “Compared to some numbers, that’s low, but one is too many.”

Police Chief Pamela Church said Western Springs also doesn’t receive many heroin-related calls.

“It’s been about three years since we had an overdose,” Church said. “That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.”

Church said the department joined the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group in a proactive effort to investigate drug issues in the village. She views the use of Narcan similarly to prevent someone from dying.

“Narcan would be another tool we could carry,” she said. “They may never use it, but it’s beneficial.”

Church said Fire Chief Patrick Kenny supports the initiative.

“We are the first on the scene, not coming from the station, compared to how our paramedics are dispatched,” Church said. “If we an save somebody’s life right away, that would be the goal.”

Church said she has contacted and is waiting to hear from DuPage County authorities to be part of their program. Western Springs is in Cook County, but no county agencies yet have spearheaded a naloxone program.

McCollum said he’s exploring alternatives since being informed LaGrange Park can’t participate in DuPage’s program. A doctor to write the nasal spray prescription for the Police Department and $1,000 to fund the program, likely from private donations, are needed, he said.

La Grange Chief Michael Holub said he supports the concept of using naloxone to save lives, but isn’t investigating options.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate that our ambulances many times are there before us,” he said. “In some parts of the county, that’s not the case and the officer on the scene might be the only one.”

Westchester Chief John Carpino said he’s not investigating the use of naloxone, because the Fire Department is equipped with the drug.

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