Photo by Jason White
(From left) Dr. Jessica Kerr, associate professor and assistant department chair at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s School of Pharmacy; School of Pharmacy associate professor Kelly N. Gable and fourth-year pharmacy student Sean O’Bannon give a presentation Thursday at the Madison County Heroin Task Force meeting at the Madison County Administration Building in Edwardsville.
Life-saving intervention for overdose victims can come from the end of a needle.
That was among the messages at a meeting Thursday of the Madison County Heroin Task Force, a group tackling a problem that has claimed at least 28 lives in the county this year. Since 1999, overdose deaths from heroin and other opioids — which include commonly prescribed painkillers — have increased 49 percent nationwide. Among women, overdose deaths from opioid overdoses increased 415 percent between 1999 and 2010.
Illinois is among at least 40 states that have laws to increase the odds of survival for overdose victims. Lali’s Law allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone, also known as Narcan, a medication that rapidly reverses the respiratory distress that leads to overdose deaths. Illinois also has a Good Samaritan law, which provides immunity from drug possession charges for people who call 911 to get help for an overdose victim. Missouri has no such laws.
“I do think Illinois is making great strides compared to other states,” said Kelly N. Gable, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s School of Pharmacy and one of the presenters at the meeting at the Madison County Administration Building in Edwardsville.
Gable, who also is a mental health care provider, touched on reasons for substance abuse. Risk factors include aggressive behavior in childhood, poor parental supervision, poor social skills, drug experimentation, the availability of drugs at school and poverty. One common path to addiction is patients who are prescribed pain medications and start taking heroin or other painkillers because they can’t find relief.
“People self-medicate because they want to be well,” Gable said. “Our health care system has failed them in some way.
“People in America look for a quick fix, which is a pill,” she said.
The other presenter at the meeting was Dr. Jessica Kerr, associate professor and assistant department chair at the School of Pharmacy, who talked about the school’s community outreach program, Generation Rx. Pharmacy students created age-appropriate drug education materials for 4,100 fourth- to 12th-grade students. Students also developed a Generation Rx Carnival to educate SIUE students, faculty and alumni about substance abuse.
“We wanted the students in our community hearing from peers,” Kerr said.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said the task force’s information-gathering sessions are translating into action. Gibbons and other task force members recently spent 12 hours talking to Alton High School and middle school students about the drug’s dangers.
“This is getting out into the community,” Gibbons said.
“The abuse of prescription pills ... is a big fueling factor and a big pathway for people reaching for heroin eventually. Making sure that we’re drilling to the root causes is extremely important,” he said.
Information on how to obtain a Narcan kit is available at http://www.overdosepreventionalliance.org/p/od-prevention-program-locator.html.
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