Everyone can save a life, says Winnebago County Health Department head


Dr. Sandra Martell, Winnebago County Health Department

Since 2013, deaths in Illinois from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, have increased 2,736%. In 2020, Illinois had 2,944 opioid overdose fatalities – more than twice the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents and more than twice the number of homicides. 

In 2020, 25 people from Roscoe died of drug overdoses, out of 135 people from Winnebago County. Last year was even worse. In Winnebago County, 354 people went to the emergency room in 2021 because of drug overdoses.

We spoke to Dr. Sandra Martell, Public Health Administrator at Winnebago County Health Department, about the rise in overdoses in Roscoe linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Dr. Martell states that Roscoe's 61073 zip code is in the top ten for overdoses in Winnebago County. She encourages more people in Roscoe and Rockton to get trained in using naloxone.

"Regardless of the numbers," she says, "everyone can save a life... It can happen in the parking lot at a grocery store, it can happen at church, it can happen when you're getting a soda at the gas station. We need more people in our community to be trained to administer naloxone.”

The medicine naloxone, often dispensed as a nasal spray (Narcan), can reverse an opioid overdose and save a life. But it takes more naloxone to reverse more-potent opioids such as fentanyl.

Register for free for Live REAL Foundation's "Opioids, Overdose & Narcan Training" on Saturday, April 30, 2022. Each attendee will receive a free opioid overdose death prevention kit (valued at $100).

Dr. Martell explains that dealers are "cutting drugs" with cheaper yet more powerful ingredients, such as fentanyl. Many drugs which aren't even opiates can be laced with fentanyl, in pills labeled as something else. Many victims who overdosed on fentanyl were not intentionally using fentanyl, which has a much higher potency than heroin or morphine. 

We often think of drugs as a problem for young people, but Dr. Martell explains that it is actually a problem for all ages. Over 50% of opioid overdoses in Winnebago County are people over 40. All genders are affected by opioid overdose.

Dr. Martell notes that people have a higher risk of overdose after they are released from incarceration. Individuals get into danger if they take the same dose of drugs after they get out as they did before they went in. Their bodies are no longer used to the same level of opioid that they had used previously, and with more opioids being altered with more potent fentanyl, they are at increased risk of overdose after being released.

With drug abuse, we need to use a medical model, says Dr. Martell. "Like we treat high blood pressure or diabetes, we should treat opioid addiction," she says. She says we need to destigmatize drug use to make it easier for our neighbors to seek help. We need to recognize that "this is a disease that will have relapses." We need to ask, "When did they start? How many relapses have they had? We also need medications to treat opioid addiction in addition to counseling therapies.”

For more ways to fight against the stigma of mental illnesses and substance use dependency in Roscoe and Rockton, visit the Live R.E.A.L website

This article is part of a c0ntinuing series on the increasing number of opioid overdoses that has especially struck Roscoe.

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