Chicago Police still don’t have overdose reversing Naloxone

By Jack Adams

Cook County Police Chief John Roberts’ son died of a heroin overdose in 2009, and ever since then he’s been saving other heroin addicts from the same fate.

“All my life I’ve been trained to first and foremost save lives,” said Roberts.

After his son’s death, Roberts said he went through a paradigm shift.

“Ever since then I’ve been looking at the entire drug problem in our nation at a different angle,” he said.

Roberts testified during the hearings for Illinois House Bill 0001, which passed in 2010, allowing non-medical personnel to use Naloxone, a drug that if injected into someone overdosing on opiates, will revive them.

In other major cities like Boston, police are provided with intranasal Naloxone for when they find an overdose victim. Currently, only a handful of Cook County police departments use Naloxone, not including the Chicago Police.

Roberts’ department, which has 128 officers, will be the first to receive Naloxone from a Cook County grant supplying 12,000 kits to several departments. He said equipping the Chicago police with Naloxone will not be easy.

“I suspect that there is going to be some delay, but they will do it. They have to,” said Roberts.

For now, the Chicago Fire Department and paramedics are the only personnel with Naloxone.

Natalie, who, to protect her identity, chose to conceal her identity, uses heroin. She said she has been revived from overdoses several times with Naloxone.

“It went black. And then all of a sudden I was really groggy, waking up,” said Natalie. “A lot of people say they get immediately sick.”

She goes to the Chicago Recovery Alliance’s (CRA) building in North Lawndale to pick up boxes of Naloxone and hundreds of clean needles for herself and other heroin injectors in Orland Park.

The CRA was founded in 1992 by Dan Biggs to test for STDs and distribute clean needles and contraceptives. Since 1996, before it was expressly legal, they began to distribute Naloxone to anyone who wanted it, free of charge.

Biggs said he thinks police might be challenged by the idea of saving lives, and may consider that to be the work of paramedics.

“On the side of the police car it says to serve and protect, and you know, to me the height of service and protection is reviving someone from a lethal overdose,“ said Biggs.

John Gutenson has worked at the CRA since 2001, shortly after his stepson died of a heroin overdose, and a few years after he kicked his own heroin addiction.

“I saw a lot of people die that were better human beings than me from an overdose and HIV. I’m no ******* great specimen of a human. I’m trying to balance the scales by saving humans,” said Gutenson.

The CRA receives grant money distribute Naloxone and train people how to use it.

“This is just a way of keeping people alive long enough to figure things out,” said Gutenson.

Photo at top: John Gutenson sits in the Lawndale office of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, waiting for people to come by and pick up naloxone and clean needles. (Jack Adams/MEDILL)