The Power to Solve the Drug Overdose Crisis Is in Our Hands

You've probably read the headlines. Heroin and pain pill use is on the rise in the suburbs. It's hard to open a newspaper these days without being hit with grim reports of another death due to opioid medications and heroin. You may also be unaware that drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in Illinois, causing more fatalities than car accidents.

But there is hope in sight. Illinois legislators have been responsive to the crisis. In 2010, legislators passed the Drug Overdose Prevention Act, expanding access to naloxone, the opiate antidote. In 2012, legislators passed the Emergency Medical Services Access Act, which grants limited immunity to people for possession of very small amounts of drugs in the event of an overdose.

In order for these laws to work, people have to know about them. Naloxone is used to reverse overdoses. The Chicago Recovery Alliance has been training individuals to use naloxone for a number of years and has documented almost 3,000 overdoses reversed -- lives saved. The American Medical Association recently stated that more individuals, laypersons, and treatment providers should be trained in the use of naloxone. That means that people prescribed opiate medications for medical reasons should have a household member trained in naloxone. If a loved one uses heroin, friends and family should know how to use naloxone. Drug treatment providers, emergency departments, jails, and detoxification centers all need to make sure that everyone who has a problem with opiates pills or heroin has access to this lifesaving drug.

But there is a shortage of naloxone and the price has gone up. We desperately need to make sure that the Chicago Recovery Alliance continues to distribute naloxone throughout the state. Grassroots fundraising efforts are underway to make sure that the organization can continue to do this work.

We also need to make sure that people call 911 when there is a drug overdose. Research indicates that the reason why people don't call is the fear of arrest and prosecution. Now, no one possessing small amounts of drugs in Illinois will have to worry about police involvement if they call to save a friend's life. The message is clear. Don't run. Call 911.

No one should die from an overdose. We need to make sure that we are educating our young people, our parents, our doctors, and our health care workers about heroin and opioids. We need to involve more allies in overdose prevention. We must stop viewing opiate overdose as the likely consequence of a bad decision and view it for what it really is: a preventable event that need never occur. There is still much work that needs to be done to end the crisis. But right now, some of the tools are in our hands. It's time to start using them.