PEORIA — BBC News will be in Peoria on Wednesday evening interviewing people as part of a larger series on the opioid crisis in America.
The focus will be on how the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl is increasingly being found not only in heroin, but also in cocaine, and how this is leading to more fatalities, said Morgan Gisholt Minard, a freelance producer for BBC News based in Washington, D.C.
“Overdoses are becoming more prevalent with cocaine users in Peoria,” she said Monday morning. “That opens up a whole new can of worms.”
Denise Backes, management analyst for the Peoria Police Department, said Peoria is seeing more cocaine laced with fentanyl. Backes is also a board member with the Peoria Recovery Project, the local group organizing the interview event.
“It’s affecting a different population, people who don’t have Narcan,” she said, referring to a brand name of the drug which reverses the deadly effects of opioid overdose. In the age of fentanyl-laced heroin, it is increasingly being carried by fearful opioid users. Since cocaine is not an opioid and doesn’t carry the same danger of overdose, users are being taken by surprise.
A very small dose of fentanyl can kill.
“I just signed the death certificate today for the 40th overdose in Peoria County this year,” said Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood, who will be speaking about the issue during the media event Wednesday.
While overdoses are on the rise, overdose deaths are actually leveling off, said Backes.
“In 2015 there were five overdose victims and five overdose deaths,” said Backes. “This year there have been 123 overdose victims and 13 deaths in the city of Peoria.”
She credits the wide distribution of Narcan for saving lives.
“It certainly shows how powerful it is as a lifesaving tool,” Backes said.
The BBC is visiting cities around the U.S. for the series. They chose Peoria not only because the area is seeing a rise in fentanyl-laced cocaine, but also because central Illinois has a vocal community working to combat the opioid epidemic, said Minard.
“The community is very public in terms of their awareness,” she said. “There are support groups and lots of leaders of these support groups are being very public. We knew there would be people willing to speak to us.”
Sharon Harkless, founder of the Peoria Recovery Project, was contacted by Minard last Thursday, and since then has been working to organize the group interview. The meeting location will be the first pull-off on Grandview Drive from Prospect Road. Anyone who has been affected by the opioid epidemic in any capacity is welcome, said Harkless. The event will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Harkless founded Peoria Recovery Project during her son’s long struggle with opioid addiction. Cody Gilles was 26 when he overdosed and died in 2016. Though Cody was deeply ashamed of his addiction and asked his family not to talk about it, late in his struggle he softened on that stance. He even agreed to do some speaking engagements for Peoria Recovery Project shortly before he died, said Harkless. She believes he is happy her work is reaching such a broad audience.
“I know I’m getting a lot of help from the other side,” Harkless said.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.