Peoria County sees 43 overdose deaths in 2020 after years of steady decline

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Thousands of people in Illinois died from COVID-19 in 2020, but there was another issue causing a climbing body count.

In the first three quarters of 2020, the Illinois Department of Public Health said there were 2,151 opioid overdose deaths in the state. This is an increase of more than 560 deaths compared to the same period in 2019.

The issue has reached Peoria County, too. Coroner Jamie Harwood said narcotics contributed to 43 overdose deaths in 2020.

“I say these numbers so flippantly. Behind every one of these names is a son, a daughter, a mother, an uncle, and that’s the most devastating part,” said Harwood.

In 2017, the county recorded 67 overdose deaths, and that number has been steadily dropping. In 2018, 59 were recorded and in 2019, just 37.

“Until recently, till this year, this past year, we had seen quite a bit of success in those numbers declining,” said Chris Schaffner, program director at Jolt Harm Reduction.

Schaffner said the pandemic played a role in the increase.

“Between, I want to say March and May of last year, we saw a 40% increase in fatal overdoses compared to the previous year in 2019,” said Schaffner.

This year, Harwood said it was harder to reach people in need.

“You have a stay at home order right, so you’re not socializing, you’re not geting out, you have social isolation for a lot of people,” said Harwood.

Schaffer says it was also more difficult to distribute free and life-saving Naloxone, also known as Narcan. Jolt hands out kits that include three doses, syringes, and step by step instructions.

“We don’t want cost to be a barrier to anybody accessing this life-saving medication,” said Schaffner.

Now, he said Jolt is working during the pandemic and finding safe solutions to reach people.

“We provide online training for folks so we can Zoom with somebody and do a quick Narcan training. That limits the amount of contact we have to do with someone,” said Schaffner.

Coroner Harwood said so far this year, there are no opioid overdose deaths. Education and outreach are two ways to prevent them, he said.

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