Harm reduction services keep Peoria overdose deaths at a low compared to 2020, coroner says

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Drug harm reduction services are essential to preventing drug overdose deaths, according to the Peoria County Coroner.

On Wednesday, the CDC reported more than a record 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021, including more than 3,500 in Illinois.

But in Peoria County, the image is a little rosier.

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said there have been 20 deaths so far this year, more than halved from the 45 deaths in 2020. He attributed the decline to harm reduction services provided by JOLT Harm Reduction in Peoria.

“We’ve made such significant progress. I’m really happy with it. We have a very robust harm reduction system here in Peoria County,” he said.

Harm reduction involves programs and policies that aim to reduce the risk associated with drug use. Some harm reduction services provided by JOLT are drug testing strips, Narcan, sterile syringe access, and disposal, treatment referrals, and counseling.

Chris Schaffner, director of harm reduction services at JOLT, said JOLT treats between 100 and 150 people a month for drug overdoses. He said overdoses are up, but people are surviving.

“We believe overdoses are occurring at a higher rate, but they survive more significantly than ever before. I can’t tell you the last time I got a report from one of our people, that someone had overdosed and died,” he said.

Schaffner said when armed with the right information, drug users can make safer choices.

“They may reduce the amount they consume at first to see how it hits. They may split their dose. Use a little bit now, a little bit later. They may dilute their shot more so it’s less concentrated and less potent,” said Schaffner.

In 2019, the Overdose Prevention and Harm Reduction Act decriminalized the possession of residual amounts of drugs and syringes if a person is registered in a harm reduction program like JOLT. People are then able to test their drugs without fear of arrest.

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