There the victim lay, alone and passed out in the parking lot of Thornton’s gas station on Harlem, with a seatbelt wrapped around the arm. Police Chief Tom Aftanas thought the victim was dead. Then the ambulance arrived, gave a nasal shot of narcan and immediately reversed the patient’s overdose.
“The first time I ever saw it, I thought, ‘That stuff’s amazing,'” Aftanas recalled.
Inspired by the quick-acting opioid reverser — and a presentation by the DuPage County coroner about how seconds spent blacked out can lead to permanent brain damage — Forest Park police started using Narcan in April 2016, outfitting their then 30 street officers with two doses of Narcan each. That cost the village about $1,940. In the year and a half since, police have revived at least six victims. And recently, they’ve started using it even more.
“When we first started it, one dosage of Narcan would bring them right back,” Aftanas said. “Now heroin is so strong it’s taken us a lot more than we usually have to give them.”
Local victims now often need two doses of Narcan to reverse their overdose instead of one, Aftanas said, explaining it’s because heroin, cocaine and other drugs are now being cut with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin. Forest Park police buy their Narcan from the DuPage County Health Department Narcan Program.
DuPage received a federal grant for $1.5 million in September 2017 to provide additional emergency training, Narcan, and other medication for opioid abuse. Grant money will partially be used to now refill Forest Park’s Narcan supply for free. In February 2018, DuPage will also start doubling the amount of Narcan available in a single dose to 4 ml from 2 ml, in reaction to the area’s growing fentanyl problem.
“We used to give them a shot of Narcan and they were up,” said Bob McDermott, fire chief. “Now you’re lucky if you wake up by the time you get to the hospital.”
Forest Park fire and emergency medical services have been using Narcan for a long time; McDermott said he graduated from paramedic school in 1992 and they were using it then. The fire department is projected to receive 3,400 emergency calls by the year’s end, the most in at least six years. McDermott partially attributes increased calls to rising drug use in the area.
“Why they’re using fentanyl, I don’t know because the goal of the pushers — the gangs that are pushing it — is to make money,” Aftanas said. “Well, you don’t make money if you’re killing your customers.”