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Rising opiate overdose deaths in county is cause for concern

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Updated: July 31, 2013 2:43AM

An increase in opiate overdose deaths has spurred multiple agencies across Lake County to develop an opioid prevention strategy.

The number of heroin and cocaine overdose deaths has more than doubled in the last six years, according to data from Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd.

“I would say there is a significant spike in heroin and cocaine deaths in the last five years and that is extremely worrisome. We need to do something to prevent that,” Rudd said.

That something is a multi-pronged opioid prevention collaboration effort. Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim has met with more than a dozen agencies and government officials to begin planning this initiative.

“A single person that dies as a result of opioid overdose is one person too many. Prevention and awareness through education is imperative in order to resolve this increasing problem.” Nerheim said.

The initiative is in the early planning stages. Several agencies such as Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group, Lake County Board, Nicasa, Lake County Health Department and Live4Lali to name a few are uniting as one coalition to develop strategies to educate the public about opioids and to stop them, said Live4Lali founder/director Chelsea Laliberte. Her organization seeks to educate the public about drugs, misuse and overdose prevention.

Laliberte lost her younger brother Alex to a heroin overdose in 2008. They grew up in Buffalo Grove with two loving parents. Alex did well academically at Adlai Stevenson High School and was an athlete until he started using drugs. Before he graduated, he seemed to have turned himself around. He was accepted to six universities. He selected Western Illinois University, but health issues cut his career short. As it turned out, those health issues were drug-related. He died at age 20 of a heroin overdose.

This sad story shows that opiate use is not limited to a certain socioeconomic or racial group. Laliberte said “literally anyone can be the face of opiates or heroin” issues.

“People have an idea in their heads about who the drug dealers are, who can use drugs. No one is immune to the disease of drug addiction. It affects people who, on paper, come from a nice background and have a nice life,” Laliberte said.

The components of the opioid prevention strategy is a prevention strategy, said Kathleen Kane-Willis, director Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University.

Prevention is aimed at youth and prevention of addition aimed at people prescribed opioid pills such as Vidicon.

“They need more information so they don’t misuse,” Kane-Willis said.

There will also be community education about nalaxone, which is basically an opiate antidote, she said. Law enforcement and caregivers who work with people taking opioids should get training in how to administer the drug. Someone who is overdosing will stop breathing and need immediate treatment, she said.

“This is a problem that is not just affecting Lake County. It is a national problem. Unintentional overdose kills 100 people per day. We think about alcohol, we think about marijuana, but we don’t think about this. This is dangerous and deadly because it’s prescribed medication,” Kane-Willis said.

Opioid deaths are “not a fad or a phase,” Round Lake Park Police Chief and Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko said.

“Pursuing the dealers and the people who are putting this on the street still isn’t solving the problems. Kids are ingesting the stuff and dying. Everyone has to be involved with intervention and treatment,” Filenko said. “We’ve got to do something — the numbers are not getting fewer and it’s not going to go away by ignoring it.”

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