Pubdate: Tue, 06 Apr 2004
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2004 The Sun-Times Co.
Author: Dan Bigg


Congratulations to the Sun-Times and Roosevelt University for covering
an issue that causes two airplanes full of deaths a year and is
largely ignored ["Suburbs lead surge in heroin use" news story,
March 29]. As director of an organization reaching heroin users of all
ages, I have a couple things to add.

We can effectively prevent heroin overdose deaths. While never using
heroin makes it sure you won't die of overdose, a great many young
people and others do choose to use heroin. For these people, there are
effective interventions that easily can be expanded. For example, we
have a program that teaches people how to effectively respond to
heroin overdose. This program prescribes naloxone, a heroin antidote,
which can be used by friends or family on a person who overdoses,
quickly reversing the potentially lethal effects -- similar to the
emergency use of epinephrine for severely allergic people. We have 218
reports to date of people being revived through this work. Medical
personnel have been using this medicine (determined by the Drug
Enforcement Administration to have no potential for abuse) for more
than 30 years with dramatic results.

It should also be added that heroin overdose is both a phenomenon of
older people (late 30s to early 40s) and of those who combine alcohol
and/or cocaine or pills with heroin (approximately three-fourths of
the total). Twenty-three (6.6 percent) of 347 heroin deaths in 2002
were among people 24 or younger in Cook County. While there has been a
huge increase in young heroin users, they are largely not the ones
dying of overdose!

What young heroin-addicted people say, to those willing to listen, is
a scream to allow access to effective drug substitution therapies. The
Illinois Department of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse estimates that
80 percent of the demand for such treatment is unmet in Illinois.

Representatives David E. Miller (D-Dolton) and Sara Feigenholtz
(D-Chicago) have introduced the Drug Overdose Prevention Act (H.B.
5033) to put this issue on the public health radar screen and increase
our effective responses to the pandemic of overdose. This is a much
needed and long overdue step toward protecting life.

Dan Bigg, director, Chicago Recovery Alliance 
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