Partnership helps responders stop in-progress overdoses

Champaign County law enforcement is carrying small vials to save the lives of people overdosing on heroin.

The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Carle to equip officers with Narcan, also known as naloxone. The drug stops respiratory failure caused by opioids like heroin in less than two minutes. Sheriff Dan Walsh said because the Sheriff’s Office covers 1,000 square miles, it often reaches overdose victims outside Champaign-Urbana faster than firefighters and paramedics.

“It’s important to get Narcan into the hands of those who can make a big difference, those who can save lives,” Champaign County Sheriff’s Office Captain Shane Cook said. “In 2015, we’ve already had nine heroin overdoses in the county. Three of those people died.”

Carle Regional EMS-trained sheriff’s deputies on all shifts to use a version of Narcan that is administered through a patient’s nose. About 40 county officials will carry Narcan, with additional doses available if needed at the county courthouse and the county jail. Arrow Ambulance will resupply deputies who use Narcan in the field.

“We modeled this program after success in other counties where deputies carry naloxone. Bringing it here will help make a difference in the opioid epidemic,” said Brad Weir, MD, Carle Regional Emergency Medical Services and AirLife medical director, who also serves as medical director for Champaign County METCAD. “This will benefit the whole community. We expect families to have their loved ones around longer. And we expect first responders, local ambulance services and hospitals to experience more manageable patient situations and better outcomes.” 

Carle’s Emergency Department saw spikes in heroin overdoses in February 2015 and around Memorial Day 2015.

This new effort gives the county another weapon in the fight against heroin-related incidents that can lead to death. Carle and the Sheriff’s Office partnered this spring with several local agencies to offer medical treatment and therapy to heroin addicts who qualify through the county’s Drug Court.

Emergency responders see more heroin overdoses today because the highly addictive drug is inexpensive and easy to obtain. Narcan itself doesn’t have harmful side effects, but it does put drug users into immediate withdrawal.

“As uncomfortable as withdrawal can be, the fact is people saved with Narcan have another chance to live and overcome their addiction,” Dr. Weir said.