PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Angell Price was in a downward spiral.
“We were all just trying to find our little piece of happiness in our little messed up lives,” Price said.
He was a methamphetamine user for over two years, until October 2020 when he was living on the street and one day used too much.
“Me and two of my friends are downtown at one of the buildings and we feel like we’re going to die,” Price said. “Like, we’ve been using drugs. We’ve been safe using but we just, I don’t know. Maybe we did something wrong, if we missed a step, I don’t know what we did wrong. But we feel like we’re going to die.”
Not knowing where to turn, he reached out to Peoria’s JOLT Harm Reduction.
“’Do you guys need help?’ And I’m just like ‘yes yes yes to everything, please. Anything that can help, please.’ I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I am tired of being this way,” Price said.
The pandemic exacerbated Price’s substance abuse issues. Now, almost a year later, he can confidently say he is healthier.
“I feel like everything that used to be shattered is just slowly like, almost like magnets, pulling itself right back together,” Price said. ““I almost feel like I’m JOLT’s success story.”
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said there was not an increase in drug overdose deaths last year.
“Just the month of March in 2020 we had 7 overdoses compared to 4 in the prior year of 2019,” Harwood said, “at the end of the day, in 2020, we did have– in Peoria county– three less drug overdoses for the year compared to 2019.”
Harwood credits local organizations for saving lives. Some, like JOLT Harm Reduction, distribute Noloxone– or Narcan– a powerful drug that can reverse an overdose.”
“Without harm reduction, without medically assisted treatment programs, we will lose more people to overdoses,” Harwood said.
JOLT’s Program Director, Chris Schaffner, said most overdoses go unreported.
“Currently, right now, we receive about 2 overdose reversal reports everyday. These are not being reported or captured in your typical EMS system,” Schaffner said. “They’re just people calling us and letting us know that they’ve used our Narcan, they’d like to get more.”
He said last year during lockdown, they were seeing four to five reversals a day.
“Yes, we saw a ton of people struggle with an increase in substance use that previously, before COVID, didn’t have a substance abuse problem,” Schaffner said.
For example, one senior clerk at Super Liquors in Peoria, Joshua Randolph, said he remembers the frenzy to buy alcohol during lockdown.
“Mornings were just about as busy. I mean, the numbers were about the same morning and night. Like I said, it has to do more with just people being at home,” Randolph said.
Harwood said many of these issues surrounding self-medication still linger over a year later. He said to look at someone suffering with empathy.
“You gotta put yourself in the place of the person who has substance use disorder who’s used to going to in-person meetings. Meeting with their counselor, meeting with their therapist and things like that,” Harwood said.
Schaffner said without preventative measures like Narcan distribution, bodies would pile up in Peoria County. To understand how to solve the issue, Schaffner said, people must understand what pulls an individual toward drugs or alcohol.
“The primary goal is to stop the bleeding strategy kind of. But it’s ‘how do we keep people alive?’ Then we can focus on how we keep them healthier,” Schaffner said.
JOLT Harm Reduction started doubling its typical Narcan doses in their rescue bags. This is to increase the accessibility in the community.
Price said he is grateful JOLT saved his life, and now he get’s to help others the same way he was helped.
“I almost feel like I’m JOLT’s success story,” Price said. “I have a place that’s stable over my head. I have a job at the place that literally saved my life. Like saved me from death’s grips literally. I love it. Like, I’m literally able to help and give back to the community.”