JOLIET – Will County hasn’t had as many heroin and opioid overdose deaths in the first seven months of 2017 as it did in 2016.
So far this year, the Will County Coroner’s Office has confirmed the presence of heroin or some synthetic version of it in 35 overdose deaths through July 31.
It should be noted, however, that toxicology reports often take weeks to reach a conclusion, so there could be more announced in the coming weeks.
But Will County Director of Substance Abuse Initiatives Dr. Kathleen Burke is encouraged by the developments. She believes it’s partially because of the use of Narcan, a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
In fact, the county is using more Narcan than she expected, and police departments weren’t all turning in reports on how much they have used.
“People are realizing they need to send me a report,” Burke said at a Thursday meeting of the Will County Board’s Public Health and Safety Committee.
But the demographics of the overdose victims are very similar to prior years. Mostly white males in their 20s are falling victim. Will County has not yet seen a spike in women dying of overdoses. That trend is growing nationally, Burke said.
As far as locations of deaths, Crest Hill and Romeoville numbers have increased this year, Burke said, suggesting that perhaps a “safe passage” program for addicts to turn in their drugs to police and enter rehab might need to be developed in the area.
Braidwood and Wilmington overdoses and deaths have dropped, Burke said. She believes the combination of education, Narcan deployment and the safe passage program there are helping in that area.
“Speaking to the folks there, they are more concerned about alcohol problems there and the possible connection to opioids,” Burke said.
Committee member Laurie Summers, D-Crete, applauded the county’s efforts so far, noting it was ahead of many other communities across the country.
At the recent National Association of Counties meetings, she noticed other counties were talking about starting programs that Will County already has in place.
But Summers stressed the county can’t drop the ball, and proposed seeking partnerships and dollars from corporations to help curb addiction while limiting tax dollars that go toward prevention. It’s working for one Ohio county, she said.