A Narcan kit used in River Forest. | File photo

The Forest Park Police Department will launch a new program in April to help its officers quickly respond to victims of opiate overdoses, Police Chief Tom Aftanas announced at the March 28 meeting of the Forest Park Village Council.

The program, which has been rolled out through many area communities in recent years, will allow officers to carry and administer Narcan through a nasal spray.

Narcan and similar drugs work by blocking opioid receptors in the brain in situations where minutes can save a life or prevent brain injury.

Aftanas said he first became interested in starting the program in Forest Park after he attended a conference in September, which included a presentation led by the DuPage County Coroner about the use of Narcan.

“It’s really an amazing program,” Aftanas said. “I think it will be a very positive factor in [overdose] situations.”

Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone asked Aftanas to estimate how often officers respond to overdoses. Aftanas said he believed police have responded to six overdoses in the past six months.

Three Forest Park officers will be sent to DuPage County, he said, and will receive training in how to administer Narcan to someone experiencing an overdose. Those officers will then return to the department to train other officers. The program is expected to be fully in place by the end of April.

Officers will carry and administer the drug, which is sprayed into a victim’s nose to revive them during an overdose. During an overdose of opiates, a victim’s breathing can slow down or stop. Additionally, it can be difficult to awaken a person when they are experiencing an overdose. Reviving someone using Narcan can help prevent death and brain injury by reversing the opiate’s effect on the body.

Police departments in many communities have begun carrying the drug for just that reason.

“A lot of times, we’re the ones who find the person and call the medics,” Aftanas said.

Paramedics in Forest Park already carry the drug in ambulances and medics will continue to be called when a person overdoses. Narcan, if administered to a person who is not suffering from an overdose, will cause no harm, Aftanas said. If a person not suffering an opiate overdose were to take it, there would be no effect because there are no opiates in the system to counteract.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has seen an increase in heroin use across men and women, most age groups and all income levels. Some of the greatest increases have been reported in demographic groups with historically low rates of use, including women and people with higher incomes. According to the CDC, between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths quadrupled.

Aftanas said he found this to be true through his experience as chief of police in Forest Park. In addition to responding to overdoses, police in Forest Park routinely interact with those abusing opiates.

“I don’t think any family hasn’t been affected or knows someone [who has struggled with] drug or alcohol abuse,” he said.