Patients treated for opioid overdoses at two Oak Lawn hospitals are now leaving those facilities with medication that might save them the next time they overdose.
Advocate Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children's Hospital recently started sending home naloxone with patients who come to their emergency rooms with opioid overdoses or opioid addictions, and a number of other local hospitals are considering similar measures. Naloxone is used to block the effects of opioids during overdoses.
It's the latest move by Chicago-area hospitals to fight a wave of deaths from opioids, which include heroin as well as some types of prescription painkillers. In Illinois, 2,110 people died after overdosing on opioids last year, according to preliminary Illinois Department of Public Health data.
The kits at Advocate's hospitals, free to patients and supplied by the Chicago Recovery Alliance, include the medication, syringes, dosing instructions and a community outreach card with more resources. Before receiving the kits, patients, and any family members who are with them at the hospitals, must watch a short video on how to dispense the medication and what to do afterward.
Naloxone works by reversing the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system that opioids cause. The drug also comes in a nasal spray version, but that is typically more expensive than the injectable version, said Dr. Diana Bottari, a leader of the Advocate Health Care Opioid Task Force and a pediatric pain management physician.
Advocate hopes to expand the program to more of its hospitals, depending on how it goes at these first two over the next few months. Advocate decided to start with Christ Medical Center and its children's hospital because those hospitals have two of the system's busiest emergency departments, Bottari said.
The hospitals try to get patients into treatment programs, but that can take time, Bottari said. Some doctors also have been prescribing those patients naloxone, but she said those prescriptions often go unfilled.
"We're able to provide this to them, in hand, as they walk out the door," Bottari said. "This is an ability to give them one more day, one more chance."
The Advocate hospitals are believed to be the first in the area to send emergency room patients home with the lifesaving medication, though other hospitals are also taking steps to prevent overdoses.
West suburban Edward-Elmhurst Health recently started recommending its doctors prescribe naloxone to patients who are also prescribed certain doses of opioid painkillers.
Edward-Elmhurst plans to also provide naloxone kits in its emergency department in the near future, spokesman Keith Hartenberger said. University of Chicago Medicine also is developing a program to send patients home with naloxone, according to Dr. P. Quincy Moore, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the university's Pritzker School of Medicine.
Meanwhile, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System has given more than 2,000 naloxone kits to inmates upon release from the Cook County Jail system since 2016, hospitals system spokeswoman Caitlin Polochak said.
Illinois also allows pharmacists and naloxone training programs across the state to provide the drug without individual prescriptions.
Steven Stefani, whose twin brother died of an opioid overdose in 2015, applauded Advocate's efforts.
His brother, Matt Stefani, was given naloxone by first responders during a previous overdose. He lived for about another six months after that, Steven Stefani said. He was 22 when he died.
"Naloxone may be that thing that just buys them that extra time for the emergency responders," said Stefani, of Willowbrook.