Harm reduction strategies key to lessening overdose deaths, coroner says

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria County Coroner said harm reduction efforts separated the region from the rest of the state – and the country – when it came to combating drug overdoses during the pandemic.

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said the region experienced a 14% increase in fatal overdoses from 2019 to 2020. Many resources for people battling drug addition were cut off.

“The support of group therapy was taken away in a finger snap, people need that type of support,” he said.

According to the CDC, 2020 was the deadliest year for drug overdoses, increasing by 27% in Illinois and 29% nationwide, driven mainly by the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of stress related to the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders, people aren’t able to get out of their houses, a loss of jobs, people having to stay home with their kids. It’s been difficult,” said Mercedes Kent, clinical supervisor at the Gateway Foundation outpatient program in Springfield.

Kent said they had to think outside the box to address barriers to treatment like payment and bed availability.

“Pekin is doing both face-to-face and virtual groups and they do outpatient services there. But we also do our medicated assisted treatment program there so clients are able to get Suboxone and Vivitrol,” she said.

In Peoria Country, the numbers were less grim, and Harwood attributed it to the reduced stigma on harm reduction in the area.

“The nuts and bolts is really Narcan distribution, and teaching people how to use a Narcan test kit, and get their drugs tested before they use so they don’t take a drug that has fentanyl laced with it, that can eventually take their life,” he said.

He said local groups Jolt Foundation and UnityPlace have been local leaders in the space.

“Thankfully we have a very robust harm reduction system in Central Illinois and the Tri-County, so we’re very fortunate to be honest,” Harwood said.

He said the first step – is just asking for help.


  • Gateway Foundation: 877-381-6538
  • UnityPlace (Peoria County): 309-671-8084
  • UnityPlace (Tazewell & Woodford): 309-347-1148

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