Kane County Health Department staff members and volunteers handed out lifesaving doses of Narcan, the anti-opioid nasal spray, to fairgoers at the Kane County Fair in mid-July in St. Charles.
While this was the first year the health department distributed the free medication at the fair, it certainly won’t be the last time.
The Kane County Health Department is planning to attend even more community events to distribute Narcan, also known as Naloxone, which can be administered to individuals who are experiencing an opioid overdose.
The drug blocks receptors that the opioid attaches to and reverses the overdose, according to Kane County Health Department Executive Director Michael Isaacson.
“It’s a lifesaving medication,” Isaacson said. “We’ve had a program in Kane County for about 10 years, distributing Narcan to law enforcement, and then over the years, it’s grown to include social service organizations, schools and libraries. Now we’re at a point with the increase in overdoses that we want to get as much Narcan out into the community as possible.”
Isaacson said the health department distributed about 1,000 boxes of Narcan, which contained two nasal doses, at the fair. He said federal monies distributed to the state of Illinois are funding the Narcan distribution program.
“We’ll continue to distribute [Narcan] at community events,” he said. “We’re working with different organizations to make it more widely available. Unfortunately, we’re at a point where we compare having Narcan to having an AED. It’s something we want people to have access to. Just like learning CPR or first aid or having an Epipen, it’s another way we can save people from something that’s happening too much in our community.”
Deaths from opioid overdoses continue to increase in Kane County, many of which are caused by the synthetic opioid fentanyl, Isaacson said.
According to the most recent data available from the Kane County Health Department, between 2011 and 2021, annual deaths because of opioids have doubled from 7.3 deaths per 100,000 to 14.9 deaths per 100,000. Just over two-thirds of fatal overdoses in Kane County between 2011 and 2021 were among males and the largest number of deaths were among 25 to 34 year olds.
The majority of overdose deaths in Kane County happened in Aurora (161) and Elgin (93), followed by St. Charles (30) and Geneva (21), data showed.
“[Fatal overdoses] are happening to people from all communities in Kane County, all walks of life. This impacts so many people. It’s really widespread,” Isaacson said.
According to the data, heroin-related deaths continue to decrease, but overdoses from “illicitly produced” fentanyl have increased “exponentially.” More than 82% of opioid-related deaths involved a synthetic opioid such as fentanyl, while less than 20% were connected to heroin.
“Fentanyl is so dangerous and some people who use drugs may not know they contain fentanyl,” Isaacson said. “We’re seeing fentanyl more in pills and cocaine and less in heroin. Fentanyl is causing more deaths in Kane County. It’s synthetic and incredibly cheap. It can be used for medication, and when used appropriately, it can be effective for pain management.”
Isaacson said the Narcan nasal spray is easy to use and is effective in reversing an overdose.
“We’re not promoting drug use, but we want to keep people alive. And by saving lives, you’re giving people the opportunity to hopefully get into recovery,” he said. “This is a multi-pronged thing. We’re trying to increase access to treatment, increase use of medications that have been effective keeping people off opioids, trying to have lifesaving measures in place. We need to keep people alive to do these other things.”