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Some area police departments training officers to carry, use opioid antidote

Monday, February 06, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Lee V. Gaines


Chicago Tribune

Police officers in the region are increasingly joining the number of first responders being outfitted with and trained to use an opioid antidote, all in an effort to save more lives in some drug overdose incidents, officials say.

Niles and Lincolnwood firefighters have already been using substances like Narcan, a brand name for the substance naloxone which is used to counteract the effects of opiate drugs like heroin. Police in those towns are in the process of being equipped with the substance too.

As of September 2015, state law requires each state agency or local municipality with either fire or police personnel to have the opioid antidote and train officers and firefighters on how to administer it. However, more towns are having both first responders carry the substance.

The Niles and Lincolnwood police departments are able to get the antidote through a grant established by Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, R-17th District, in partnership with the Orland Fire Protection District, which is in his area.

Morrison said he felt it was important that both police and fire personnel carry the opioid antidote because beat officers often arrive on the scene of a potential overdose before fire personnel and a swift response matters when it comes to treating overdose victims.

"We get representatives from each law enforcement entity. We train them and they train their personnel," Morrison said.

His grant provides Evzio, a brand name for a naloxone auto-injector device, to police departments. So far, Niles and Lincolnwood are among the 51 law enforcement agencies in the county to get a grant.

Starting Jan. 23, all of Lincolnwood Police Department's 33 sworn personnel went through a two-day training on how to use the devices from another officer who was trained through the grant program, according to Deputy Chief John Walsh.

The police department received 10 Evzio packs, or 20 doses of the opiate antidote, which is enough to equip every squad car on duty with one, he said.

Each Evzio pack contains two auto-injectors equipped with an audio component that provides voice instructions. Each pack retails for approximately $3,600, Morrison explained. They have a one-year shelf life and the commissioner acknowledges that his grant may not be able to cover future costs of the antidote.

And cost is an issue for police departments like Lincolnwood's, the deputy chief said.

"It could become an expensive enterprise and it's unfunded by state law," Walsh said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 711 people in Illinois died from a heroin-related overdose in 2014 compared to 844 deaths state-wide in 2015, which amounts to a nearly 20 percent increase in fatalities in one year. Numbers for 2016 have yet to be released.

Locally, overdose-related 911 calls have increased, police and fire department data shows. And opioid-related deaths, especially from heroin, have been on the rise.

In 2013, Niles saw one opioid overdose-related death. But last year there were three, according to information from the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. Morton Grove had a similar jump in cases, going from 0 in 2013 and 2014 to three in 2015.

Morton Grove police Cmdr. Paul Yaras said his department has opted so far not to participate in the grant program partly due to the cost of the devices. Though the grant would provide the substance to the department for now, Yaras said that longterm the village would be on the hook to pay for it.

He added, however, that "when you're talking about human life, you can't look at dollars and cents."

Yaras said opiate and heroin use in the village "isn't exactly widespread" and the municipality's fire department already carries opioid antidotes and responds quickly to calls.

He said he's received guidance from state officials that as long as the village's fire department carries the opioid antidote, the police are not required to.

Last year, he said, the fire department responded to four reports of suspected heroin overdoses and revived all individuals involved.

Niles Police Cmdr. Robert Tornabene said the village's police chief police Chief Dennis McEnerney felt it was important that officers also carried the substance, along with fire personnel.

The Niles community has seen an increase in calls related to overdoses over the last year, Tornabene said. The department received 12 such calls last year, which was up significantly from the three received in 2015, Tornabene said.

"The chief felt that with the risk of overdoses, especially in this area where it's grown dramatically in the last couple years, that it would only benefit the community if we had that capability on hand at the same time as the fire department," the commander said.

Tornabene said the department may use drug seizure funds to pay for the substance in the future.

"The great thing about (the grant program) is it allows us to have the capacity to help the public instead of having to rely on the fire department when time is such a major issue," Tornabene said.

Lee V. Gaines is a freelancer.

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