Study: 75% of overdose deaths take place before medical assistance arrives

More than 75% of opioid overdose deaths in Illinois occur before emergency personnel can reach a patient, according to results of a study by Northwestern University Medicine.

The study was published by the university in March. Drug overdose deaths from July 2017 to December 2018 from 24 counties. In total, 2,833 deaths were included in the study. Nearly a quarter of the deaths recorded, 655, were among patients who had been seen by emergency personnel, with others dying before they could arrive.


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Researchers recommend that the state provide more overdose prevention sites with access to anti-overdose medication such as naloxone. Joe Feinglass, a research professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern University who took part in the study, said in a report on the study:

“If we really want to save peoples’ lives, we can’t wait until Emergency Medical Services arrive at the overdose scene.

The preponderance of community deaths speaks to the urgent need to decriminalize illicit drug use, which could reduce fatal overdoses and allow those suffering from substance use to seek treatment more freely. Establishment of supervised consumption sites may have the biggest impact in reducing overdose deaths.”

So many opioid deaths taking place before medical assistance can arrive presents a unique challenge to the state in their effort to prevent opioid deaths. Researchers believe that the state will not need to put a greater focus of preventative measures in combating the epidemic. 

The opioid crisis has been an issue for Illinois since the pandemic began in March 2020. ProPublica reported last year that opioid overdoses had spiked early in the pandemic in Cook county, which includes Chicago, and in other neighboring counties.

The Senate Access and Availability committee heard testimony earlier this month about a 30% spike in opioid deaths in 2020. In February, Rep. Janet Yang Rohr filed the “Opioid Overdose Reduction” act to combat the projected growth in opioid deaths. The bill would give immunity to overdose patients when they arrived at a hospital to receive treatment.