In DuPage County last year, there were more deaths from heroin overdoses than car crashes, so a growing list of law enforcement agencies, including the Lombard Police Department, are equipping officers with a potentially life-saving drug.
It's called Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan. For those who understand the power and peril of heroin, it can mean the difference between life and death.
"Narcan is something that is absolutely needed in our society today, especially in DuPage," said Nick Gore, former heroin user.
Gore, of Bartlett, has been clean for two years after a year-long battle with heroin. He's seen friends die from the drug, and others saved following an overdose thanks to a Narcan.
"They're my friends today. They're alive today because of Narcan because someone made that phone call, and it was used properly," said Gore.
Heroin kills by slowing brain activity to the point of stopping a person's breathing, but a $16 nasal mist dose of Narcan can counteract an overdose if it's given early enough.
"Many times police officers actually arrive prior to the EMS or the medical personnel arriving," said Karen Ayala, Exec. Dir., DuPage County Health Dept. "It is critically important for that drug to be available as quickly as possible."
Which is why dozens of DuPage County police departments are now training officers in the use of Narcan. The health department spearheading the initiative with overdose deaths in the county doubling in the past two years.
"We really need to work with the individuals using these very powerful drugs in a way that saves their lives," said Ayala.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the practice of equipping officers with Narcan.
"Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both," said Holder.
But could Narcan encourage heroin users by giving them a false safety net?
"That's not going to stop a heroin addict from using or keep them using. A heroin addict is going to use regardless," said Gore.
In DuPage County, more than two dozen police departments and the sheriff's department have had officers trained in the use of Narcan, more than 1,000 officers in total. They say it's still too early to measure the impact of this initiative.