Reducing deaths from opioid overdoses

Courtesy of UIC News Bureau
Post date: 
January 29, 2019


The Illinois Department of Human Services estimates that 1,826 people died in 2016 from opioid related overdoses —an increase of more than 70 percent compared with 2013. The opioid crisis is a growing problem throughout the state, and across the nation, but the addiction can follow different pathways in different areas.


“Far and away, most overdoses and opioid-related overdose deaths in Illinois are now caused by heroin use, often in combination with potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl,” said James Swartz, professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work. “In states such as Tennessee or Ohio, it’s been more predominantly a problem of prescription opioids, but looking at the data in Illinois, it appears to be increasingly heroin/fentanyl.”

To combat this growing problem, Swartz has been working with the IDHS Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse on two aspects of the opioid epidemic in Illinois: reducing the number of deaths from overdoses and gaining a better understanding of the epidemiology of addiction in Illinois.

Improving outcomes from overdose reversal

Naloxone is a substance that temporarily blocks the effects of opioid drugs and has proven successful in reversing opioid overdoses. For the last year, Swartz has been working on a project called “Illinois Prevent Prescription Drug/Opioid Overdose Deaths.” In six Illinois counties known to have high numbers of opioid-related overdoses — Cook, DuPage, Lake, Madison, St. Clair and Will counties — the project has increased the availability of naloxone reversal kits, as well as training in their use.

Sites within these counties have come up with their own approach to implementing the project. Each site is also implementing unique interventions, such as increasing “warm hand-offs” of overdose survivors between the police and other first-responders and health care providers, to encourage increased treatment participation.

Swartz will analyze data collected from each site to determine best practices.

“Each site is almost like a unique laboratory, and we’ll be doing a careful examination of the data to see what practices are most effective for reducing overdoses and overdose-related deaths as well as use of opiates,” he said.

To help achieve that goal, Swartz will collaborate with the UIC Center for Clinical & Translational Sciences to create an Internet-based app that can be accessed on computers or mobile devices to capture information about naloxone administration from first responders and bystanders in the field.

The project is being conducted under a five-year federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, administered in Illinois byDivision of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.