IL: Rise in Naperville overdose deaths linked to stronger street drugs being cut with other substances: coroners

Chicago Tribune –

Overdose incidents and deaths rose in Naperville in 2020, which DuPage and Will county coroners attribute to stronger street drugs mixed with a cocktail of illicit substances.

Statistics released by the Naperville Police Department this week show officers handled 36 heroin overdose situations in which the victims did not die in 2020, double the 18 incidents reported in 2019. Police administered the drug naloxone to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose 21 times in 2020 compared to 13 in 2019.

“Unfortunately we had more one more fatality than we did from the prior year,” said Russ Matson, the department’s director of administrative services. There were four in Naperville in 2019 to five in 2020.

In DuPage County, overdose deaths totaled 112 in 2020, up from 96 in the previous year, DuPage Coroner Richard Jorgensen said.

Will County’s 2020 numbers trended lower than in 2019, Will Coroner Laurie Summers said. However, she will not have final numbers until March or April because not all toxicology test results have been returned.

As of Friday, overdose deaths in Will totaled 115, with 77 attributable to Heroin

" target="_blank" >heroin and fentanyl.

In 2019, there were 133 accidental drug overdose deaths reported, of which 101 were linked to heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic form of heroin.

The biggest change in overdose deaths in recent years, Jorgensen said, has been the shift toward what he calls a “poly pharmacy.”

“We continue to see a very large number of drugs mixed in together,” Jorgensen said.

Instead of one or two types of drugs, he said, toxicology reports are showing a combination of “marijuana, Xanax, cocaine and heroin or fentanyl.”

In addition, Summers said manufacturers of illicit drugs are cutting their products with other toxic chemicals and there’s no way to know what people are consuming until a coroner receives a toxicology report. “I don’t feel they truly know what they’re getting,” she said.

The lethal mix can be problematic for police officers using naloxone to revive a person who’s overdosed, Jorgensen said. “Narcan (brand name for naloxone) does not work against cocaine in that instance,” he said.

Also challenging is the trend toward stronger opioids, the coroners said.

Of the 77 heroin/fentanyl overdose deaths in 2020 reported in Will County as of Friday, 75 were caused by fentanyl, including the death of a 26-year-old Naperville man, coroner’s reports show.

Jorgensen said most of the 112 overdose deaths in DuPage involved fentanyl, which locally has 60 distinct variations based on potency.

Becoming more popular in the area, he said, is the variant car-fentanyl, which is 10,000 times stronger than prescription opioid morphine.

Because the potency of fentanyl differs so much, first responders don’t know how much naloxone to administer, Jorgensen. In some cases, it takes four or five doses to reverse an overdose, he said.

“That’s a tremendous amount of resources,” he said.

The bigger challenge for city, county and state leaders is tackling the opioid crisis.

While more money and resources are needed to combat the issue, Summers said she believes the solution is to change how addiction is treated. “It’s a not a character flaw; it’s a disease,” she said.

Naperville has taken steps to reduce overdose incidents and deaths by focusing on addiction through Connect for Life, an initiative offered by the police department that helps those seeking assistance to get into treatment right away, Deputy Police Chief Robert Lee said.

Anyone who visits police headquarters at 1350 Aurora Ave. to request help is immediately screened into Connect for Life. Since 2016 when the department started the program, 92 people have been placed into treatment. In 2020, 20 people were helped, Lee said.

The Naperville City Council has agreed to hire a fourth social worker this year and provide crisis training to help police deal with the rising number of mental health-related calls.

“We know our social workers are definitely assisting in mental health, substance abuse and being a victim advocate,” Lee said.

Police Chief Robert Marshall said a top priority in 2021 is getting his department certified in crisis intervention.

In the coming weeks, 24 police officers and 911 dispatchers will complete a 40-hour course to become certified as mental health experts, Marshall said.

“We have about 50 officers that have gone through their training already. Our goal is in 2021 to increase that number, to get another 100 of our police employees through crisis intervention training,” he said.

Additional money could be coming to the state from a $19.8 million from a settlement reached Thursday between a coalition of 53 attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, and the consulting firm McKinsey for its role in helping opioid companies promote their drugs and profiting from the opioid epidemic.

In a release issued Thursday, Raoul said the $573 million, multistate settlement will be used to abate and address the effect of the opioid epidemic throughout Illinois and the other participating states.

“The opioid epidemic has devastated communities and families throughout Illinois and across the country,” Raoul said in the release. “McKinsey’s actions helped opioid manufacturers maximize profits, often at the expense of the health and safety of the public.”

He said the settlement will hold McKinsey accountable for its role in perpetuating the opioid epidemic, but, even more significantly, will provide much-needed assistance in combating the epidemic’s effects.

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Tags: Drug Strategy Naloxone Opioid Epidemic Overdose Recovery Assistance" >Overdose
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