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Narcan Keeps Ill. Heroin Deaths Down While Overdoses Increase

Feb. 04--PEORIA -- While the number of heroin overdoses rose within the city of Peoria during the past two years, the number of overdose deaths dropped slightly, according to figures from the Peoria County Coroner's office.

Coroner Jamie Harwood said his office found 14 deaths in Peoria last year were attributable to heroin, while that number was 18 in 2015. Yet, the number of overdoses rose from 41 in 2015 to 61 in 2016. That, said Harwood, shows the use of Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is helping to counteract the effects of heroin.

Harwood looked at the number of deaths his office handled that were linked by toxicology results to heroin or to drug mixtures that included heroin. Within Peoria County in 2016, there were two deaths, not including the ones within the city limits of Peoria. Figures for the number of county deaths because of heroin were not available for 2015.

Currently, patrol officers with the Peoria Police Department and other departments throughout the area as well as firefighters and EMTs carry Naloxone, which is administered as a mist through the nose. It belongs to a family of chemicals known as opiate antagonists and works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as narcotic painkillers such as heroin and prescription medications Vicodin or Oxycontin. Naloxone reverses the effects of opiates already in a person's system and will block any opiates subsequently absorbed from acting.

In December 2015, authorities from across the region announced the Mayor's Community Coalition Against Heroin, a crackdown on the drug that would include many of the same tactics as the anti-violence program Don't Shoot. It was estimated Naloxone would be administered an estimated 1,200 times in 2015 -- an average of more than three times per day.

Andrew Rand, the head of Advanced Medical Transport, said the numbers speak for themselves. but he also sees the problem as a larger one.

"First of all, we are seeing an opiate epidemic and not just a heroin one," Rand said. "America's gotten so addicted on painkillers, they think, that when they are taken away, people are going to the secondary market to get heroin as it's cheap and accessible. But it's also cooked with all kinds of stuff, so you don't know what it's cut with or what the strength of it is."

And Harwood agrees. To him, one death is too many and he says we need to pay more attention to the large number of deaths. He likens Narcan to safety features in a car. As cars get more advanced, they have more and more features designed to protect the driver. Society, he says, needs to continue to find ways to protect people from narcotics such as heroin.

Andy Kravetz is the Journal Star public safety reporter. He can be reached at 686-3283 and akravetz@pjstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/andykravetz.

___ (c)2017 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Visit the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) at www.PJStar.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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