McHenry County sees decline in drug overdose deaths

As the number of drug overdose deaths in McHenry County declines, incidents of police dispensing of naloxone also are becoming less frequent.

In 2019, 37 people died in McHenry County as a result of drug overdoses, not including eight cases that remain under investigation. That’s compared with the 51 people who died from drug overdoses in 2018 and 78 in 2017, according to the McHenry County Coroner’s Office. Of those deaths, five were the result of some combination of heroin and fentanyl or fentanyl analogs, while eight were caused by fentanyl or fentanyl analogs alone, McHenry County Coroner’s Office records show.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can exaggerate the side effects of other drugs such as heroin, while fentanyl analogs are substances that are nearly identical to fentanyl in their chemical makeup, but might differ slightly.

Fentanyl was present in the system of 20 of the 37 people who died as a result of overdoses in McHenry County last year, according to the coroner’s office.

Illicit drugs aren’t responsible for all of the county’s overdoses, however. McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said a significant amount of the area’s overdoses can be traced back to legal prescription drugs.

“2019 also marked the first year in nearly a decade that a doctor was charged in McHenry County criminally for allegedly not prescribing in good faith,” Kenneally said.

In August, police arrested Dr. Thomas Tilot of McHenry, who is charged with delivery of a controlled substance. Tilot’s case is ongoing and he is due back in court Jan. 28.

Last year, there were 236 opioid overdoses – both fatal and nonfatal – in McHenry County, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. While law enforcement’s use of naloxone, which is a medication used to reverse the effects of a drug overdose, has undoubtedly help reduce overdose deaths during the past two years, police haven’t needed to administer naloxone as frequently in 2019, said Judy Pasternack, a professional development specialist for behavioral health and substance use at Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital. Naloxone often is commonly known as Narcan, which is the name for a nasal spray version of the medication.

“I know that this year I was surprised. There was a big gap of time between August and October when we had no [overdose] reverses by the police departments,” Pasternack said.

In 2017, law enforcement agencies reported 36 naloxone administrations, Pasternack said. Of those, 32 successfully reversed the victim’s overdose, resulting in an overall 88.9% survival rate.

The next year, police administered 54 doses of naloxone with an 85.2% survival rate, Pasternack said.

In 2019, the number of confirmed overdose deaths in McHenry County dropped to 37, and police administrations of naloxone fell to only 31. Of those naloxone administrations, 29 successfully prevented a fatal overdose, resulting in a 93.5% survival rate, Pasternack said.

“We do pull out all the stops,” she said. “We’ve brought in everybody’s talents and resources to prevent [overdose deaths] from happening.”

From an educational standpoint, groups such as the McHenry County Mental Health Board and Live 4 Lali, a substance abuse and mental health awareness group, have worked to keep residents informed about substance abuse prevention and treatment resources.

Live 4 Lali offers its Smart Recovery program from 6 to 7:30 p.m. every Thursday at Warp Corps. skate shop, 114 N. Benton St., Woodstock. McHenry County’s A Way Out Program similarly offers substance abuse assessments to residents seeking recovery. Inpatient or outpatient referrals are determined on an individual basis and depend upon availability, according to the county’s website.

Addiction recovery options for McHenry County residents also have expanded during the past several years. Most recently, Crystal Lake-based New Directions Addiction Recovery Services announced its plans to open a 35-bed sober living retreat in Woodstock.

The retreat is a project spearheaded by New Directions President Chris Reed, who since 2013 has founded several Crystal Lake projects supporting sober, healthy lifestyles. His projects include The Other Side, a sober bar and New Directions, a nonprofit organization that offers case management, peer support and sober living. Reed, an addict in recovery himself, also operates three sober living homes in Crystal Lake. He also opened the Crystal Lake-based outpatient treatment program Northern Illinois Recovery Center in 2019.

The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office has taken its own approach to tackle the opioid problem. Since late 2017, prosecutors have charged more than 40 people with drug-induced homicide – a Class X felony that typically is punishable by six to 30 years in prison.

“At the end of the day if you’re found guilty, there’s no probation,” Kenneally said. “The only stop is prison and it’s for a significant period of time.”

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