Lives depend on getting heroin antidote Narcan into everyone's hands, advocates say

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's a call to help curb the opioid crisis by getting a cheap and plentiful antidote for heroin-related overdoses into the hands of users and caregivers on Chicago's West Side.

The effort to make naloxone, or Narcan, widely available comes after more than a dozen overdoses were reported in one day last month. The goal is to save lives.

"I love you Major Nancy. She's been with me through the ups and the downs and she saw what I was going through but she never gave up on me, and I just want to say thank you," said Anthony Patrick Johnson.

High on heroin, homeless and stumbling around with a thermos full of vodka, 60-year-old Johnson said the Salvation Army took him in last Father's Day - and brought him salvation.

"I have been the elephant in the room many times and I just want to say I'm here because I know exactly what they are going through," he said.

They are the men and women of the West Side suffering from substance abuse, and overdosing in record numbers especially since a particularly destructive heroin-fentanyl mix made it to the street last month, causing at least 17 overdoses. Solving the scourge today is centered on getting the anti-overdose medication into the hands of, well, everyone.

"These drugs have a hold on people," said Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th Ward.

With a map of the overdose hotspots in Humboldt Park behind him, Dr. Thomas Huggett explained how the antidote comes in nasal and injectable form.

"It is a very easy thing to administer and it really does save lives," Dr. Hugget said. "Without this, a lot of these overdoses that you see in these hotspots would be deaths."

"You could reverse an overdose with one dose but now we are finding that people need all three of them and sometimes even more," said Karen Stanczykiewicz-Bigg, of the Chicago Recovery Alliance.

A keystone, many said, was not casting judgement.

"I am in the trenches on a daily basis to make sure that that help is available to them the day that they ask, the moment they ask," said Carl Evans, of Divine Intervention Foundation.

"We need to treat, we need to prevent, and we need to execute all of the plans we come up with - and not criminalize," said Suzanne Sellers, of Families Organizing for Child Welfare Justice.

Elected officials know getting Narcan into the hands of everyone with substance abuse disorder -- and the people around them -- is daunting.

"If you have something that is free, we can have everyone in the city of Chicago and in the state having these the way they have smoke detectors in their house," said Illinois State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford.

"Putting money into activity like this is an investment and so if there is no investment there is no return," said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois (7th District).

"Someone can be down today, but that does not mean they have to stay there," said Major Nancy Powers, of the Salvation Army.
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