Ill. anti-heroin task force pushes for Narcan nasal spray

Opposed to injecting the overdose preventing drug, the spray is reportedly less expensive and easier to administer

By Nicholas J.C. Pistor
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

CHICAGO —  Heroin is one of the top killer drugs in suburban America, and Illinois is trying to combat it with a new task force and a push to manufacture a new nasal spray to treat overdoses.

Sen, Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Lake County States Attorney Mike Nerheim, and DuPage County Coroner Dr. Rich Jorgenson were expected to announce Monday the formation of a Suburban Anti-Heroin Task Force. It comes three days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, in a survey of 28 states including Illinois and Missouri, deaths from heroin overdoses more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, to 2.1 per 100,000 population.

Meanwhile, deaths by prescription opioid pain relievers, which Kirk and others say can be a gateway to heroin abuse, was down slightly, to about 5.6 per 100,000 people.

"Heroin can now be bought and sold in powder form, which eliminates the need to inject the substance with a needle," the Illinois officials said in an announcement of their new task force. "This development is making it easier for teenagers to use the drug without suspicion and is causing heroin usage to skyrocket."

Kirk said the nasal spray Narcan, made by Lake Forest pharmaceutical company, Hospira, is a "life-saving drug that can be administered if an overdose is suspected." The problem: DuPage County is the only one actively using Narcan as a nasal spray rather than through an injection, which is more expensive and more difficult to administer than the nasal spray. Kirk wrote to the Food and Drug Administration Monday asking that the FDA speed up approval of Narcan's availability nationwide.

The task force creators said that since EMTs and other medical professionals in DuPage County have been trained to use the nasal spray, deaths by overdose have been cut in half.

Kirk, Nerheim and Jorgenson will co-chair the task force. They say that part of the problem is combating the abuse by young people of prescription pain-killers, which can be "a gateway to heroin usage, and since heroine usage enters the brain so quickly, it becomes highly addictive." (Chuck Raasch)


• 3,635 — number of deaths from heroin overdoses in 2012 in 28 states, including Missouri and Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• 1,779 — number of deaths from heroin overdoses in those same states two years earlier

• 9,869 — number of those who died from overdose of prescription painkillers in those 28 states in 2012, down from 10,427 two years earlier.

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