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McHenry County officials say fatal overdoses on the rise but why eludes

McHenry County has seen an “unusual increase” in fatal overdoses in the past 28 days, the McHenry County Department of Health reported this week, alarming those in the community whose mission it is to save people from addictions.

The county health department reported a 250% increase in the number of suspected overdose deaths in the past 28 days compared with the previous 28 days, department officials said in a news release.

So far this year, 24 deaths have been caused by drug overdoses, and toxicology reports are still pending on seven cases, said Laura Crain, drug free program coordinator at McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition. About five of the confirmed overdose deaths also are attributed to suicides rather than accidental overdoses, she said.

“We have not seen what we saw in these 30 days in over at least two years,” Crain said.

The news prompted Rob Mutert, owner of Warp Corps in Woodstock, to again raise the issue of the importance of funding prevention-based programming in the community. Warp Corps provides space and options for teens and young adults in the hopes of preventing them from becoming involved in drugs and alcohol use and abuse.

“My biggest reaction to this information … surprise,” Mutert said. “This is such a substantial net growth of overdoses in a very short period of time.”

Mutert said he is “becoming very perplexed at the lack of leadership” and support from officials in the county when it comes to funding prevention-based programs.

“There is no initiative to get in front of this problem so [that]) in five years we don’t have the same number of young people get into this drug use, and that comes with prevention-based programs,” he said.

The news comes as Crain is preparing for the sixth annual Overdose Awareness Week, which includes an event beginning at noon Sunday on the historic Woodstock Square. The event is to remember those lost to overdose and celebrate those who have recovered from a life of addiction, Crain said.

There will be training in the use of naloxone in the prevention of a fatal heroin overdose, a youth bike parade, live music and resources on-site.

The week also will be marked by Ride for Recovery, a 75-mile motorcycle ride through northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The ride begins at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at Harley Davidson, 2235 S. Eastwood Drive in Woodstock, and ends at the historic Woodstock Square, 114 N. Benton St. at 3 p.m. The cost is $20 for the driver and $10 for a passenger. Registration is available at www.mchenrycountysac.org.

While most overdose deaths in McHenry County occur because of opioids and often are caused by fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, Crain could not explain the increase in fatal drug overdoses.

Two of the cases involved xylazine, a sedative drug intended for use in large animals recently seen in drug overdoses locally and nationally. It is not yet clear if this drug is involved in the remaining seven deaths, she said, adding she is concerned with the emergence of this new drug in the county.

One of the most recent drug overdoses did not involve opioids at all but was the result of an inhalant, she said.

The concern is not only with fatal overdoses but with the increase in emergency room visits because of overdoses that were not fatal, she said.

“Nonfatal contact for opioids, we monitor that too,” Crain said. “This is a concerning number for us. … There are lots of things happening, multiple factors that cause us to say, it is beyond normal numbers. We can’t say why. We don’t see a particular time of day, particular month or holiday, there just isn’t a common theme [connecting the overdoses or fatalities].”

In the meantime, Mutert said he will continue to provide options at Warp Corps to keep young people from engaging in drugs and alcohol. He also will continue to find financial support to one day see his dream of building a large community center come to fruition. This center would incorporate space for skateboarding, art, music and other activities along with resources under one roof.

“There is a lot of money allocated at the county level to combat these issues with in recovery, treatment, sober living homes and harm reduction and those are all amazing things that need to take place, and I would never not support funding them,” he said. “We need to also give a considerable amount of money and energy to prevention based programs before these children are corrupted.”

In light of the increase in overdoses, the McHenry County Department of Health issued some guidance aimed at those who use or have a loved one who uses opioids.

Opioid overdose symptoms include very small “pinpoint pupils;” extreme drowsiness or falling asleep; no breathing or slow, shallow breathing; choking or gurgling sounds; a limp body; and pale, blue or cold skin.

If someone suspects an overdose, they should immediately call 911, lay the person on their side and if possible, administer as many doses of naloxone, which is also known by the brand name Narcan, as needed until the person responds or emergency services arrive.

Crain also advised calling 911. “We have a good Samaritan law. They can’t get in trouble even if they were using at the time,” she said.

Fentanyl is becoming more common, sometimes laced with other drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine. A dose as small as three grains of rice can be lethal.

To avoid accidentally overdosing on fentanyl, the county health department pointed residents to resources such as fentanyl test strips and naloxone, which can be ordered online through Live4Lali.org or by calling or texting the nonprofit at 224-297-4393.

Information about community resources, events and supplies is available at Live4Lali. Local resources for substance use are available through the McHenry County Mental Health Board or by calling the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances at 833-234-6343.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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