COOK COUNTY, IL – In recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and partnering organizations raised awareness today about the opioid overdose epidemic and reinforced ongoing prevention efforts at the Cook County Jail.
The event highlighted the importance and success of lifesaving naloxone distribution at the jail, which has provided more than 24,000 overdose reversal kits since 2016 to those leaving custody. Surveys of those who received naloxone through the program indicate that at least 39% have been used in a life-threatening overdose situation, likely saving thousands of lives.
For today’s event, Sheriff staff and volunteers from partner organizations with the South Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force provided naloxone training to thousands of individuals in custody and engaged visitors and the public with critical information on treatment options.
“Americans are dying at an alarming rate, but our efforts in the jail and in the community are saving lives. This work must continue,” Sheriff Dart said. “We will work closely with our partners in public health and the community to do everything we can to address this crisis.”
In 2022 nearly 2,000 people were killed by an opioid overdose in Cook County, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. That is more than the total number of people killed by homicide or car accidents, combined. More than 91% of the overdose cases involved fentanyl – a powerful drug that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
Ringing the alarm alongside Sheriff Dart was Dr. Priscilla Ware of Cook County Health’s Cermak Health Services and Florence Wright with the South Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force. Both organizations emphasized the importance of working together to help combat the opioid epidemic in Cook County.
“The risk of a person fatally overdosing increases 10-fold after release from a jail or prison. That’s why it is essential that we continue to collaborate to expand access to equitable and patient-centered substance use disorder treatment both in our communities and in correctional settings,” said Dr. Ware, Cook County Health Chair of Correctional Health and Medical Director of Cermak Health Services.
Cermak Health Services offers the only certified Opioid Treatment Program in a correctional facility in the State of Illinois, providing Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT), along with comprehensive medical and mental health care to support patients at the Cook County Jail on their recovery journey.
“This critical work demands co-operation between all stakeholders – including state and local officials, law enforcement, and community organizations like the task force,” Wright said. “We are thrilled to be working with the Sheriff’s Office to address this deadly public health emergency.”
The Cook County Jail is a national leader in providing substance use disorder treatment in custody. So far this year, nearly 1,000 individuals have taken part in the jail’s primary SUD treatment programs, and thousands more have taken part in mental health programs that also address drug use. Individuals who leave custody are also provided naloxone kits and important connections to continue their treatment.
“It can be extremely difficult for people to overcome addiction and access the treatment their lives depend on,” Sheriff Dart said. “People have to know we will do whatever it takes to help.”
Sheriff Dart also started the Community Resource Center (CRC) to connect the public to important resources, including SUD treatment. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the CRC at (773) 405-5116 or visit www.cookcountysheriffil.gov.