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DuPage County Struggles To Fight Opioid Epidemic

WHEATON (CBS) -- DuPage County officials say they are mounting a multi-pronged response to a growing number of cases of opioid addictions and death.

WBBM's Craig Dellimore reports.

The DuPage County Coroner reports heroin-related deaths are up more than 50 percent in the area. States Attorney Bob Berlin said the numbers paint the picture.

"In June of 2013, we had 57 heroin possession cases pending and 26 prescription pain pill cases pending. In a three year period, those numbers grew from 57 heroin to 121 heroin," he said.

He also claimed arrests for heroin possession and prescription drug abuse are up.

Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, said what the county deals with is an epidemic.

"Implicit with that description is that it will require many different interventions and sectors to intervene, not only law enforcement and the criminal justice system, but healthcare providers and families and schools," she said.

Ayala said more police and paramedics are saving lives with the drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan. The drug can help someone recover from a heroin overdose. She said there have been nearly 240 overdose reversals since January 2014 in DuPage.

Ayala also said uses of Naloxone have tripled in some cases, which Bob Berlin thinks is significant.

"Despite all of our efforts, there's a tremendous amount of heroin and opioids out there and there's more people using," he said.

Berlin said there are even times when first responders must use two or three doses of Narcan to bring the person "back to life."

Both Karen Ayala and Bob Berlin also acknowledged how the lack of a state budget can influence their work.

Ayala admitted many DuPage County residents are privately insured. But people without private insurance may not be so lucky.

"For those who are reliant upon state-based insurance such as Medicaid or who are uninsured, those beds have gotten harder to find," she said.

But Berlin said the fight against the opioid epidemic will continue, even if the funding is slow.

"Fortunately we have a county board chairman and a county board who are really dedicated to providing the resources and funding to fight this problem," he said.

Listen to WBBM's "At Issue" program airing at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Sunday for more about what DuPage County officials are doing to combat heroin trafficking and addictions.

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