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Saving lives: Lansing leads 53 area police departments in preventing overdoses

Lansing Police Chief Dennis Murrin (left) and Sgt. Gabe Barajas (right) met with Dr. Eric Edwards at a February 26 press conference. Dr. Edwards is one of the founders of Kaléo, a pharmaceutical company that is making and donating Evzio, the first overdose prevention product that is FDA-approved for use by people outside of a healthcare setting. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
by Melanie Jongsma

ORLAND PARK, Ill. (February 26, 2018) – “If there’s a department that really stands out,” said Orland Park Fire Chief Michael Schofield, “it is Lansing.” Schofield was addressing the crowd at a press conference held for the purpose of providing an update on the life-saving efforts of 53 Cook County police departments enrolled in a special overdose prevention program.
As part of the program, the Lansing Police Department saved 26 lives in 2017. The next highest number of “saves” was 13, from the Worth Police Department. With 9 saves, Oak Forest PD came in third. In total, the 53 police departments in the overdose prevention program saved 123 lives in 2017.

A unique partnership

A grant from Kaléo Pharmaceutical supplied a total of 12,000 Evzio kits to police departments, free of charge. (Photo provided)
The Evzio Opioid Overdose Prevention Program is a unique partnership between Cook County Commissioner Sean M. Morrison, Chief Schofield’s Orland Fire Protection District, and Kaléo Pharmaceutical Company. Kaléo is the producer of the Evzio Auto Injector System, an opioid antagonist that allows police officers to administer immediate help and reverse opioid overdoses. Commissioner Morrison and Fire Chief Schofield worked together to apply for a grant from Kaléo that would supply the Evzio kits to police departments throughout Cook County free of charge.

Bridging the gap

Chief Dennis Murrin
When Lansing Police Chief Dennis Murrin took the podium at the press conference, he described the feeling of helplessness his officers used to experience when arriving on the scene of an overdose. Police are the first to respond to a call, and when they assess that drugs are involved, they call the Fire Department for emergency medical assistance. Though it may take only minutes for help to arrive, those minutes are critical in an overdose situation—they can make the difference between life and death.

Evzio can be administered immediately, whether or not the on-scene officer has medical training. The Evzio Auto Injector kit gives police a way to bridge the gap until an ambulance arrives. “I can’t thank you enough,” Chief Murrin told Dr. Eric Edwards to applause from the audience.

The opioid epidemic

Dr. Eric Edwards demonstrated the voice guidance system that talks an officer through the steps of administering Evzio. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Dr. Edwards and his twin brother founded Kaléo Pharmaceutical after addiction and overdose impacted their family. “This is an epidemic that does not discriminate,” he told the crowd, explaining that today’s overdose victims can include high school athletes who became addicted to prescription pain medicine, or elderly people who took an incorrect dosage, or even a child who steps on a discarded pain patch.

Kaléo is determined to be a different kind of pharmaceutical company, valuing people over profit, and innovating new payment options as well as new products. Their website explains, “Each kaléo product combines an established drug with an innovative delivery platform with the goal of achieving superiority over the current standard of care and cost effectiveness.”

Chief Dennis Murrin (at podium) takes questions from reporters, along with Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (far left), Dr. Eric Edwards, and Orland Fire Chief Michael Schofield. The overdose prevention program in Lansing is the result of their partnership. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The press conference was hosted by Orland Fire District, and several local newspapers attended. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Why so many in Lansing?

Of the 53 police departments enrolled in Kaléo’s innovative grant program for preventing overdoses, only 29 reported any saves at all. Twelve of those departments reported just one save. In fact, Lansing and Worth were the only departments who reported saves in the double digits.

Lansing’s location is a factor. Being an easy exit from I-80/94 makes Lansing a convenient stop for habitual drug users who buy their product in the city or in neighboring towns.

But Dr. Edwards cites another distinguishing characteristic of Lansing. “You need a champion in your community to make this happen,” he said. In Lansing, Chief Murrin has been that champion. When he learned about the overdose prevention program and Kaléo’s grant, Murrin took advantage of it and made it department protocol. Sgt. Gabe Barajas, Lansing’s Village Preparedness Officer, has been trained to be a trainer—so every Lansing police officer is trained to use the Evzio Auto Injector. Every Lansing police officer carries the kit as part of his or her standard issue. “It’s on the front lines every day,” said Chief Murrin.

Following the press conference, Lansing Sergeant Gabe Barajas speaks with Kaléo’s media team. Barajas trains all new LPD recruits to carry and use the Evzio kits. (Photos: Melanie Jongsma)

Partnering to make a difference

As a trained paramedic himself, Dr. Edwards is familiar with “the front lines.” He also understands the budgetary restrictions that departments face. It wasn’t enough to invent the drug and the delivery system, he also had to find a way to make it available. “We decided, for our business model, that we would donate to law enforcement and public health,” he said, “because they just don’t have the budgets right now.” Kaléo has donated 300,000 doses of Evzio to date.

“We are working alongside you all in partnership to try to make sure more fathers, daughters, spouses are going to be at their dinner tables,” Dr. Edwards said. “We are going to stand strong with you as we continue to make a difference in the community.”

About the 123 saved lives that prompted the press conference, Dr. Edwards said, “That’s what keeps us going. I’ll fly anywhere in the country for a moment like this. To see what all of our work is doing, and everything that you are doing—it makes it all worthwhile.”

Sgt. Gabe Barajas and Chief Dennis Murrin thank Dr. Eric Edwards for providing the Evzio kits. “Everything that you are doing—it makes it all worthwhile,” said Dr. Edwards. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.