CHICAGO (WLS) -- Opioid overdose deaths in Illinois have tripled in the past decade, according to health officials. As fentanyl deaths continue to surge, an emergency treatment may soon be available over the counter.
When Narcan nasal spray is used while someone is overdosing on opioids it can reverse the frequently fatal symptoms. Right now, federal regulators are looking to approve Narcan sales over the counter in pharmacies in an effort to curb the carnage, largely from fentanyl.
"You have a national epidemic where tons of people are dying," Theo Krzywicki, End Overdose Founder & CEO, said.
Opioid overdoses continue to take lives with startling regularity. The I-Team has been tracking unabated opioid abuse from pills to powder, in alleys and apartments, spanning generations, professions, race and income.
Five years ago there were thousands of overdoses citywide, averaging 18 per day; from the ballparks to Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile.
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With the increased misuse, and mistaken use, of fentanyl, deadly overdoses across Illinois continue to climb.
"An interesting statistic is like three out of five of the overdose deaths that occur could have been prevented with these like measures, like knowing the signs and symptoms and having Narcan," said Jackie Pawlowski, End Overdose IL Branch Manager.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now moving to make Narcan more easily available. Regulators are giving priority review of the over-the-counter application by Emergent BioSolutions for its nasal spray Narcan, also known by the active drug name naloxone.
The potentially life-saving drug is widely stocked by first responders who train on how and when to administer Narcan. The Chicago health department and public library system announced Monday that Narcan will be available for free at 81 facilities citywide.
Quick FDA over the counter approval would give parents, roommates, and friends of opioid users the easy ability to have Narcan spray on hand in case of an overdose.
"It's becoming more and more common for families to have Naloxone at home," said Dr. Stephen Spontak, Emergency Physician at Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital. "It blocks the opioid receptors and throws many people who are chronic users into opioid withdrawal."
For some the fast-track overdose treatment of over the counter Narcan nasal spray won't be fast enough. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. surpassed 108,000 last year. The FDA is expected to approve initial over the counter sales of Narcan on March 29.