While there are only a handful of calls to police and other emergency-response personnel related to opioids each month, the gradual progression of the opioid crisis nationally has been enough to concern authorities.
Police Chief Richard Eddington said Evanston police responded to 19 calls for overdoses in 2017, and 12 so far in 2018. Four persons died from overdoses in 2017, and two have died so far this year; at least one of them involving heroin.
Over the last few years, responders from the Evanston Fire Department have averaged roughly three events a month pertaining to opioids, added Paul Polep, Division Chief of the EFD Fire/EMS Operations.
Both Chiefs Eddington and Polep said that, in most cases they had seen, the overdoses had roots in an opioid prescription that the victim had initially misused, with them in many cases becoming addicted and resorting to desperate measures to sustain that addiction.
“The entry to this nightmare is through the healthcare system,” added Chief Eddington.
“It’s a case where you try it one time and you can’t stop,” said Chief Polep. “It’s a real disease, like alcoholism.”
Chief Eddington added that the addition of fentanyl to opioid formulas in recent years has made for “a volatile mix,” further noting that staff and inmates at an Ohio prison had to be treated on Aug. 29 shortly after an inmate overdosed and authorities suspected that fentanyl had been spread in the air.
Evanston emergency responders must take heavy precautions when arriving at an opioids-related situation, said Chief Eddington.
“When we exercise a search warrant, [responders] always have someone with us with antidotes when we go in, just because we know these substances have become so prevalent,” he said. “We didn’t have to take these precautions 24 months ago.”
Chief Eddington added the recent increased volatility means that sometimes overdose victims must have multiple administrations of antidotes. Some municipalities supply both police and other response personnel with antidotes such as Narcan. Chief Polep said that is not the case in Evanston, where it is only supplied to EFD responders.
“The Police and the Fire departments usually arrive at a scene within three minutes of each other,” Chief Polep added.
The two departments currently have little in place on their ends for follow-up after an overdose-related event. Rather, it falls to health care personnel who treat the victim to guide them through getting assistance.
“It depends on the desire of the party to change,” said Chief Eddington.
It seems the tide of illegal or abused opioids may not begin to recede soon. Chief Eddinton said carfentanil, a recently minted opioid, is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. It is not in Evanston, he said, “but it’s out there and will evenetually be a presence here. It’s going to be difficult to stem the tide.”