CHICAGO — The West Side Heroin and Opioid Task Force is offering training on how to respond to opioid overdoses and how to provide the lifesaving drug, Narcan.
The team works in collaboration with organizations that provide treatment and support for those with opioid use disorder and is offered five to six times a week across the city.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there were 804,552 fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills and over 549 pounds of fentanyl powder seized in 2022.
“It’s about giving back, it’s about service, I have to give back. Like I said, I wore those shoes so if the help wasn’t there when I needed it but it’s out there now,” Gail Richardson, the lead outreach specialist to the task force said.
The task force told WGN that it was their priority to make these task forces accessible.
Not only do they offer these trainings but also drive around town in areas that are considered ‘hotspots’ and help those they feel like need it the most.
“We work hotspots where they sell drugs,” Richardson said. “We work across the street from where they sell them. We go introduce ourselves to the young men and let them know that we’re out here to save lives. The epidemic is bad.”
Luis Agostini, a public information officer for the DEA’s Chicago Division, said Narcan training is just a small part of a bigger picture when it comes to the epidemic.
“When it comes to saving lives, we know that it has been proven effective,” Agostini said. “But we also want to help people not even reach the point where they need Narcan. That’s why we’re very focused on drug prevention education.”
According to preliminary data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, there were just under 1,600 opioid overdose deaths in 2022.
“The overdose rate is so high,” Richardson said. “A lot of people are not aware of the purpose of Narcan, what it does to save lives, to reverse an overdose.”
The group works around the clock to help those in need, whether it’s an overdose or someone looking to get clean.
“It’s about service,” Richardson said. “I have to give back because like I said, I wore those shoes. The help wasn’t there when I needed it but it’s out there now. So let’s make people aware of it.”
The task force has made it its mission to be accessible to the community through its training and partnerships with community organizations.