When Rob Russell became Kane County coroner in 2012, the county experienced only one death associated with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Last year, there were 63 fentanyl deaths in the county, an indication of how much the problem has grown.
“Back in 2012, it was heroin that was the big issue,” said Russell, who spoke as part of a May 4 forum on fentanyl at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. “This is why we’re here tonight because it’s something serious, folks.”
The forum was sponsored by Chris Walk Against Substance Abuse and the Kane County Chronicle.
Chris Foley died of a heroin overdose in 2007 in St. Charles. Foley was the son of Shaw Media employee Vicki Foley.
The mission of Chris Walk Against Substance Abuse is to advocate – and be a support – for those addicted and their families who are experiencing substance abuse issues.
It’s not just young people who are abusing fentanyl. The average age of a fentanyl victim in Kane County is 39 years old, Russell said.
“Although there are adolescent deaths, it’s predominately an adult issue,” Russell said. “Obviously we don’t want our kids experimenting with this stuff, we don’t want them taking this stuff. But I think it’s important to point out that the average age is 39 years old.”
Fentanyl also is showing up more and more in counterfeit pills. In September, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued its first public safety alert in six years to warn the public about the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fake prescription pills in the U.S. These fake prescription pills often contain deadly doses of fentanyl, according to the agency.
Russell noted there are some good uses for fentanyl, including for people who have been involved in an accident and are experiencing extreme pain.
“Fentanyl has been a great prescribed as needed substance to help them through and survive whatever issue they might have,” he said. “The problem is it is very, very addictive, so it has to be prescribed in a very careful manner.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions.
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain talked about his initiative to treat opioid addiction in the jail.
“If you don’t do anything while they’re in custody, when they leave us, they’re 74 times more likely to overdose and die,” Hain said.
The treatment in the jail is provided by Lighthouse Recovery addiction treatment center in St Charles. Hain said 90% to 92% of Kane County jail’s population is struggling with addiction issues.
And for some, this is the first time they are getting help.
“Some of these individuals have not had treatment and have been in and out of custody in jail or prison for 40 years,” Lighthouse Recovery clinical director and co-owner Nathan Lanthrum said. “The first time that anybody is receiving any type of care sometimes is when they go to jail.”
Lanthrum talked about the importance of providing help right away to those who have overdosed. Narcan (naloxone) nasal spray is used along with emergency medical treatment to reverse the life-threatening effects of a known or suspected opiate narcotic overdose in adults and children.
“Don’t be scared to use this,” Lanthrum said to those in the audience. “You will not hurt somebody by using this. What you need to do first is get on the phone with 911.”
To receive training on naloxone administration, call Sophia Ottomanelli at 224-239-2236.
Dr. Stephen Holtsford of Recovery Centers of America and Lighthouse Recovery also was part of the panel. U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and Kane County Board Chair Corrine Pierog delivered remarks during the night.
“This forum to me is so critically important in terms of awareness, of steps that we can do to potentially help alleviate that pain for that person, to give them a hope for recovery and the courage and skills to recover,” Pierog said.