GENEVA – The purple and yellow box of Evzio is barely the size of a deck of cards, yet it contains naloxone, a drug that can be the difference between life and death for a person who has overdosed from heroin or another opiate.
So far this year, five people in Kane County died of opiate overdose but six others were saved because of naloxone, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said.
The anti-opioid, with a brand name of Narcan, can be delivered via nasal spray or injection. Evzio, manufactured by Boston-based pharmaceutical company Kaléo, is a self-contained unit that can deliver an injection of naloxone through clothing without an external needle, Russell said.
Most departments in Kane County have naloxone in a nasal dose, but Russell said they will need to replace their supply as they use it or it expires. He said his goal is to get Evzio to those departments that don’t have it.
“I told the [Kane County] Health Department about it and gave them some samples. They are just ecstatic about this,” Russell said.”This is the safest, quickest, most easy way – most easily transportable way – I think, to save lives.”
Kane County Disease Prevention Director Sharon Sillitti confirmed the department’s interest in Evzio.
“We are definitely pursuing it,” Sillitti said.
Naxolene availability is one of the goals of heroin advocacy groups focus because it saves lives. St. Charles resident Vicki Foley said she firmly believes naloxone would have saved her son, Chris Foley, who died from an overdose in 2007 at age 27 after a 10-year addiction.
“I heard the emergency rescue [recording] called in by a friend,” Foley said. “They said at the time, he was still alive before he ambulance had gotten there. If there had been Narcan, he would have been alive and had another second chance.”
Foley, a Shaw Media employee who founded Chris Walk in memory of her son, said Narcan or naloxone should be available to anyone who lives with or knows someone who is a heroin addict.
“It’s not condoning the heroin addict that they can go out and use,” Foley said. “It actually saves the life of someone who is overdosing. Because they don’t inject thinking they are going to die.”
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Russell said he is actively trying to curb overdose deaths by building partnerships with governmental agencies and advocacy groups. He has 120 free doses stacked in his office.
When Russell co-hosted an anti-heroin forum in March, he called for a community action plan to address what health and police officials called an epidemic of heroin deaths.
“This is the kind of action I’m talking about here,” he said.
Russell’s 120 free doses came from a heroin advocacy group in Arlington Heights, Live4Lali Inc. Chelsea Laliberte founded it in memory of Alex Laliberte, her brother who died at 20 in 2008 from a heroin overdose.
Laliberte said her organization received a limited supply of what was left over from the Lake County Opioid Initiative, a partnership of her agency and the Lake County Health Department to get naloxone in police cars.
Kaléo donated its Evzio units to the initiative, Laliberte said, and the rest went to the organization.
In an emailed statement, a Kaléo spokesman wrote the company has a grants program that provides the Evzio naloxone auto-injector at no cost to qualifying nonprofit organizations and other groups demonstrating need.
“We are proud to report that since December 2014, approximately 6,000 units have been donated to first responders and nonprofit community groups in Illinois,” spokesman Mark Herzog wrote in an email.
While researching the availability of naloxone, Russell found Live4Lali and Evzio. He got the training, the free doses and told the health department about it.
“We are working with their health department so they can get their own supply,” Laliberte said of the Kane County department. “We are going to train the health department people, because currently they have the nasal [delivery mode] but they would like to switch over to Evzio.”
Live4Lali will give the health department about 120 units of Evzio, so dosages will be available for all police shifts, Laliberte said.
“This is a big paradigm shift because police finally started using it in the last few years,” Laliberte said. “Fire departments have been using it since the 1970s.”
Live4Lali holds daily walk-in clinics for people who want to learn how to use naloxone. Its motto is, “People helping people to end overdose by 2030.”
The units Russell has and the additional ones the health department is poised to receive will expire in October.
But Russell said the supply will get Kane County’s police and other first responders through the summer and early fall before another free supply from Kaléo will carry them through the next two years before it expires.
After that, the supplies might not be free, but Russell said he hopes advocacy groups would raise money to help pay for them.
And while the nasal form works just fine, Russell said he is sold on Evzio.
“You pull it out; you stick it in ‘em; it’s done. You never see the needle because it’s imbedded inside,” Russell said. “This is more stable, and it’s actually easier to use.”