Illinois receives $38 million to fight opioid crisis

By Jose Zepeda, Assistant Daytime News Editor

As Illinois continues to fight against the opioid crisis, especially after receiving a recent $38 million grant, local efforts in Champaign-Urbana are still looking to prevent opioid-related tragedies.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a total of 17,029 people died in 2017 due to opioids. The number of deaths related to prescription opioids has been rising steadily since 2014. Of deaths related to both opioids and synthetic narcotics, fentanyl is the main narcotic seen.

Fentanyl, as described by the NIDA, is a synthetic drug used to help manage severe pain or pain from surgery. It is similar to morphine but can be 50 to 100 times more potent.

Maureen McMichael, associate professor in Veterinary Medicine, said a poppy-seed size of fentanyl can kill someone if ingested.

When used incorrectly, fentanyl is dangerous for not only humans, but also animals.

Because it is their duty as drug enforcement officers to search for illegal narcotics by sniffing out for the drugs, K-9 units also have the potential to overdose on drugs such as fentanyl if exposed.

This issue was brought to the College of Veterinary Medicine two years ago by Illinois State Police when one of their dogs was exposed to fentanyl.

Since then, the College of Veterinary Medicine has been training police departments, fire departments and emergency medical technicians on how to respond to such cases. The solution is using a reverse agent to reverse the effects of the drug, known as Narcan.

While all three first responding agencies have already been carrying Narcan since 2015 after the passing of the Illinois Heroin Crisis Act, it was not known whether Narcan was safe to use on canines. The College of Veterinary Medicine found it was.

“These dogs are savings lives,” McMichael said. “They deserve for us to return the favor.”

Carle Foundation Hospital has also been working with first responders to help fight the opioid crisis.

Michael Smith, medical director for Carle Emergency Medical Service, said they have been working with public health organizations, such as Rosecrance, a rehabilitation center with three locations in Champaign, to combat the opioid crisis.

Carle also has its own rehabilitation center, which reaches out to the community and practices wellness education.

Smith said public health organizations, as well as local school systems, are the best platforms to promote the dangers of the opioid crisis.

For Smith, it is important to stop the crisis as soon as possible, as he believes it is getting worse in the Champaign-Urbana area.

“We send ambulances out every day for overdoses,” Smith said. “It is definitely the number one public health crisis.”

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