Kane County launches new opioid awareness campaign

The Kane County Health Department has launched a new campaign to bring awareness to the opioid crisis in Kane County and beyond by sharing the stories of those who struggle with opioid addiction or are otherwise impacted by the crisis.

The “Your Story Matters” campaign is designed to destigmatize the people who are struggling with substance use disorders and give those impacted by the opioid crisis in one way or another the information and tools they need, according to the campaign’s website, which can be reached at overdoseinfo.org.

“As easy as it is to say, ‘Well, people just shouldn’t use drugs,’ that isn’t and has never been the case. People self-medicate for a lot of reasons,” said Kane County Health Department Executive Director Michael Isaacson. “We just want to keep people alive.”

The health department has created videos, which are hosted on the campaign’s website, of people from across Kane County sharing their experiences with the opioid crisis. These videos range from recovering opioid users to parents whose child fatally overdosed to doctors fighting the opioid crisis.

According to Isaacson, the campaign targets three groups of people in particular – people currently struggling with opioid addiction, those who know people struggling with opioid addiction and the professionals who care for people with opioid addiction. Each of these groups have been impacted in unique ways by the crisis, he said.

The campaign is not designed to “shake a finger” at those struggling, Isaacson said. One of the core messages of the campaign is that opioid addiction does not discriminate and can be found throughout all social groups, regardless of age, race, income or any other demographic factor.

“Not to sound too soft on it, but evidence shows that, especially if somebody is really struggling, having that person who reaches out to them and lets them know that they care about them, that has a huge impact on reducing overdoses and helping people come up with better strategies for themselves,” he said.

Isaacson said he hopes this campaign can act in a similar way by showing people that they have value and that, even if they are going through a hard time right now, there is hope for the future.

The campaign’s website lists a number of organizations in Kane County that can help people who use opioids regularly recover from their addiction. It also has information on types of treatment, how to select a doctor who will treat substance use disorder as the medical condition it is and ways to safely use opioids to reduce the risk of a fatal overdose.

One significant way that fatal overdoses can be prevented is through the use of a drug called naloxone, commonly known under the brand name Narcan, which is a nasal spray that can reduce the effects of an overdose. The Kane County Health Department, through a state grant, is providing the drug for free to the general public, along with community organizations, health care providers and law enforcement agencies.

The campaign website lists a number of places Kane County residents may receive naloxone confidentially and for free. Certain organizations also provide fentanyl test strips at no charge.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is sometimes added to other illegal drugs without the drug user’s knowledge, which increases the likelihood the user will overdose, the CDC’s website on opioid overdose says.

In Kane County, 90 drug overdoses were reported over the course of 2022, according to the “Your Story Matters” campaign website. Of those overdoses, over 80% were opioid-related, the website says.

In 2023, naloxone was used a reported 95 times to reverse suspected overdoses in the county.

Naloxone cannot be self-administered, meaning that someone else must give the life-saving medication to the person having an overdose. The campaign’s website encourages the loved ones of opioid users to always keep the medication near.

The campaign’s website has a section dedicated to the family and friends of opioid users. In it, it explains what substance use disorder is, how to be supportive of those who have it and how to best care for the users in their life.

“It’s essential to understand that opioid addiction is a medical condition, not a moral failing, and your loved one needs support, not judgment,” the website says. “One of the most powerful ways you can support a loved one with opioid use disorder is by educating yourself about the condition.”

A similar section for care providers, which includes everyone from law enforcement and EMT professionals to nurses, doctors and social workers, explains how best to talk to those struggling with opioid addiction, how to save lives with naloxone, how to care for their own mental health and more. It also points to additional resources for specific professions.

Beyond the website, the Kane County Health Department is going to be launching a social media campaign, putting up posters in bus stops, giving posters to its community partners and more to get the word out.

While the campaign is primarily one of communication, Isaacson said the department is doing a few extra things through the program as well.

For example, local law enforcement are being provided with “leave behind kits” that they can bring to cases of drug use or overdose. Isaacson said these kits include, among other things, the life-saving naloxone.

“It’s great to hand out naloxone at health fairs and things like that, but we really want to make sure that we’re getting into the places where people are using drugs,” he said.

The campaign will be ongoing, and Isaacson described the recent launch as just “step one.”