McHenry County Health Department raising resource awareness against rising opioid-related death toll

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

Fentanyl is a potent synthetically produced opioid that has now found its way into “street” drugs in the county. The McHenry County Department of Health has warned residents and provided resource agencies for help.

An increase of suspected drug overdose deaths over the past few months was enough for the McHenry County Department of Health to issue a statement and warning to residents, along with contacts for local resource outlets to get help.

While the deaths are not confirmed, they are based on data from the county coroner’s office.

Sixteen overdose deaths were reported countywide during the past two months, an increase from earlier in the year. The fatalities involved opioids, often fentanyl, a potent and synthetically manufactured drug found in various illicit “street” drugs, being sold in the county. Buyers are unaware, which results in tragic circumstances.

“The MCDH and the partners want residents to remain safe, and ensure they have the supplies that they need,” said Nick Kubiak, the department’s community information coordinator. “Fentanyl test strips, used to detect fentanyl in all types of drugs, can help prevent an overdose. Naloxone nasal sprays can help reverse an overdose.”

Former Lake County coroner Dr. Thomas A. Rudd, a certified pathologist, was also a founding member of the Lake County Opioid Task Force in 2013.

“It really jumped during the COVID pandemic,” he said. “Sellers had cocaine and heroin, which no one suddenly wanted, and the shelf life was expiring. Fentanyl could be mixed in cheaply.

“Users going back to the two drugs, used the same dosages or amounts, unaware of this potent drug, resulting in death. Novice, or new, users began to overdose. What can be done? Providing more free drug abuse clinics is one answer. Most clinics are fee for service. Our county offers help, but very little. There are waiting lists.”

In its public notice, MCPHD listed local resources for referral agencies, as well as locations to obtain free naxolone nasal sprays and fentanyl test strips.

“We hand out fentanyl test strips to test street drugs, the entire supply has become something cheaper to make money on, and I agree … fentanyl is a deadly problem,” said Brenda Napholz, of The Break Crystal Lake Teen Center. “I’m the founder, president, executive director, and plumber when need be. Always keep the conversation open, the stigma is what’s killing everyone.

“We offer a safe place created by kids, and a third place outside of home and school. It’s a connection, a community, and antidote to mental health and substance abuse disorders. It’s peer-to-peer support, where punitive systems cause more trauma and stress. Find individuals where they’re at, and what the road to recovery entails.”

A Way Out-McHenry County offers substance abuse counseling daily to anyone in the county seeking recovery. They help those without insurance, and also work with providers.

“When people call here looking for detox or treatment, I’m in a unique spot to be a conduit, so we can provide resources, sober living, someone to talk to,” said Ian H., a care support specialist for the group. “We value privacy, I’m also in recovery. Personally, I try to bring a kind heart and some compassion. I build relationships … people reach out in crisis mode and families are taking a back seat. They need a little help and direction.”

A similar template is maintained by The Warp Corps.

“We first engage in a quick evaluation with what the person is struggling with, mental health, figure it out for a starting point,” said Rob Mutert, the Corps’ founder and executive director. “A lot are undiagnosed mental health disorders that led to drugs, alcohol, or both.

“We have a vast network, links, and connectivity in the county for any type of disorder-based treatment needed. I started in 2017, the deadliest year, recording 79 drug overdoses, and 39 suicides in the county. I said, ‘It’s Go time.’ This doesn’t need to happen. This was the year fentanyl came into the drug supply. It’s horrific.”

Kubiak noted that no-charge naloxone and fentanyl testing strip machines were installed at: McHenry County College Cafeteria (8900 Northwest Highway-Crystal Lake); The Other Side Café and Sober Bar (135 Beardsley Street-Crystal Lake); Community Health Partnership (69 N. Ayer Street-Harvard); and the Youth and Family Center of McHenry County (1011 Green Street-McHenry).

The no-charge supplies for are also available for walk-ins at MCDH sites (2200 N. Seminary Road, Building A-Woodstock; 100 N. Virginia Street-Crystal Lake).

Services and supplies can be obtained at: Live4Lali (call, or text, 224-297-4393); The Warp Corps (114 N. Benton Street-Woodstock, 815-985-6256); The Break Crystal Lake Teen Center (815-575-9358); The Other Side Café and Sober Bar (799-220-8943); A Way Out-McHenry County (815-347-0385).