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Cook County Jail Program Helping Prevent Opioid Overdose Deaths By Providing Released Inmates With Naloxone

By Paige Tortorelli

CHICAGO (CBS) -- An ongoing Cook County Jail program has saved more than 100 lives, by providing inmates with Naloxone kits to prevent opioid overdose deaths after those detainees are released.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is an opioid antidote that can revive someone suffering an overdose.

Jessica Goodman witnessed her friend experiencing the symptoms of an opioid overdose.

"I was with a friend. He injected heroin, and then he fell down and started turning blue," she said.

Goodman's traumatic experience is not uncommon.

Nyesha Clark also witnessed her boyfriend overdose on opioids.

"His heartbeat was so shallow, I realized that he was probably ODing," she said.

Luckily, Clark and Goodman both had Naloxone with them.

"I usually had it in my bag at all times," Goodman said.

Clark and Goodman both received Naloxone kits from the Cook County Jail, which has given them to thousands of detainees who have left the jail over the last three years.

Since the jail started providing the kits to at-risk inmates when they are released, the opioid antidotes have been used at least 130 times, CBS 2 has learned.

The Illinois Department of Public health said more than 1,000 people in Cook County died from opioid overdoses in 2018 alone.

"Addiction is a disease. So people need to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best," Goodman said.

The jail partnered with Cook County Health to train detainees about Naloxone, hoping to reduce the number of fatal overdoses.

"Our program started in August of 2016, and we've educated 6,800 patients, and we've dispensed roughly 5,000 kits," said Kelsey Schultz, a clinical pharmacist for Cook County Health.

The kits work by using a nasal spray to administer Naloxone to someone suffering an opioid overdose. The Naloxone can take effect right away, or it could take a couple minutes to have an effect.

"I clicked the button and he woke up instantly," Clark said of her boyfriend's overdose.

Naloxone also revived Goodman's friend when he overdosed.

"It brought him back, and when 911 came, he was more okay," she said.

Goodman also has been revived with Naloxone after overdosing herself.

Studies have shown opioid users are at the greatest risk for overdosing after they are released from jail, because their tolerance has dropped.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the Cook County Jail is one of the first in the nation to supply Narcan to people leaving custody.

"I really thought that we needed to be proactive," he said. "People say, 'Well, you're just encouraging people to use more opioids, because now they can have no fear because they can be revived.' I was like, 'That's insane.'"

"It could give you the opportunity to save someone's life," Clark said.

"A lot of me said, 'Thank God I have this,'" Goodman said.

The kits cost around $115 apiece. Cook County Health said a state grant of more than $300,000 helps pay for the drug.

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