BLOOMINGTON — An increase in synthetic (man-made) opioids in McLean County mean that it's taking more doses of Narcan to restore breathing in some people experiencing an opioid overdose.
"We have synthetic opioids in McLean County," McLean County Coroner Kathy Davis said Wednesday at the first McLean County summit in response to the opioid epidemic. "It can take up to nine doses to reverse (an opioid overdose) because of the potency of the synthetic opioids."
"We're seeing an uptick in the number of doses of Narcan (naloxone)," agreed Dylan Ferguson, McLean County Area EMS director. Sometimes, heroin, an illegal opioid, is cut with Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, resulting in a deadly cocktail, he said.
Meanwhile, the number of patients requiring Narcan from EMS providers is trending downward, Ferguson said. Last year, EMS providers in McLean County administered Narcan 136 times.
"Perhaps they are seeking treatment through other modalities," Ferguson said.
Davis and Ferguson were among more than 60 people who participated in "McLean County's Response to the Opioid Crisis," hosted by the county health department. Among people who participated in the wide-ranging discussion were representatives of the state's attorney's office, sheriff's department, area police and fire departments, addiction prevention and treatment providers, behavioral health providers and hospitals.
"I wanted to get everyone to the table to discuss and share insights and concerns," said Cathy Coverston Anderson, health department interim director.
During 2016, 2,278 people died of drug-related overdoses in Illinois, a 44.3 percent increase from 2013, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
More than 80 percent, or 1,826, of those deaths were opioid-related, IDPH said. That's a 70 percent increase from 2013.
In McLean County, 12 people died of opioid-related deaths in 2016 and two were from heroin. During 2017, through Aug. 2, nine people in McLean County died of opioid-related deaths, Davis said. Since then, there have been three to five possible opioid-related deaths, but those cases are pending toxicology testing, she said.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicates that for every opioid-related death, there are 130 people with an opioid-use disorder.
"That would give us an estimate of 1,170 people in McLean County with an opioid use disorder," Coverston Anderson said after the meeting.
"It hits everyone," Davis said, meaning people of all races and socio-economic levels.
But administering Narcan is only part of the solution.
"We are saving lives," Ferguson said. "But ultimately, Narcan is not the cure-all."
"There is no one thing that will address this," added Joan Hartman, Chestnut Health Systems vice president of behavioral health services.
"It has to be a multi-faceted approach," Ferguson said.
Dr. Susan Mantell, medical director for Bloomington-Normal Treatment Center in Normal, which uses a methadone maintenance program, said some physicians, physician assistants and advance practice nurses, need to be more careful about over-prescribing prescription opioids painkillers, such as hydrocodone, and then cutting patients off from refills because some patients then turn to buying heroin on the street.
But Davis pointed out that medical professionals are trying to respond to patients' differing pain tolerances.
"What treatment works for one (person) might not work for the other," Mantell said. "Addiction is very complicated."
Hartman said that Chestnut's detoxification unit recently expanded from 14 to 22 beds and "typically we have two to three beds open" which should help to address part of the need.
The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal has 30 inpatient beds for treatment of addiction and chronic pain, said Sandra Beecher, the institute's corporate services clinician. "We're available 24/7 to help families suffering from this addiction," she said.
Coverston Anderson will follow up with summit participants with the goal of forming a countywide task force to develop a multi-faceted approach to addressing the opioid epidemic.
"There is no one silver bullet to address this problem," she said.