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Narcan vending machines can curb overdose deaths. Galesburg now has two of them.

Jane Carlson
Tri States Public Radio
A vending machine with free Naloxone, also known as Narcan, and fentanyl test trips in the vestibule of Moon Towers, 255 W. Tompkins St., Galesburg. Another Narcan vending machine is in the lobby of the Knox County Law Enforcement Center, 152 S. Kellogg St.

More than twice as many people died from opioid overdoses in Illinois than they did from car crashes or homicides in 2022.

And last year, 27 people from Knox County were treated in emergency rooms for opioid overdoses, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Others didn’t make it to the ER.

Vending machines stocked with the opioid reversal medication Narcan and test strips are popping up across the country—including in Illinois—to curb overdose deaths.

Galesburg now has two of them.

Narcan can save lives if people have it on hand when it’s needed.

“It’s a safe thing to have,” said Jeff McFadden, System of Care Coordinator for Recovery-Oriented System of Care council – or ROSC – in west central Illinois. “For me personally, being in recovery for five years, I’ve never had to use it. But I carry it.”

Harm reduction

McFadden said the vending machine idea came out of a meeting ROSC had with Knox County Sheriff Jack Harlan, in which they were discussing starting a peer support recovery programs inside the jail.

Harlan had heard of another county with a Narcan vending machine. So McFadden turned to a friend who is a harm reduction specialist to make it happen.

“Within a week, a machine was donated that had the Narcan slots. Because with these machines from a local vending company they have to make the slots fit the Narcan and the test strips and everything,” McFadden said.

The vending machine was installed in the lobby of the Knox County Law Enforcement Center, 152 S. Kellogg St., earlier this year.

And the contents are free -- for anyone struggling with substance use, anyone who knows someone struggling with substance use, or anyone who just wants to have it on hand.

“What if it was your mom? What if it was your brother? What if it was your grandma? Substance use does not discriminate,” McFadden said.

ROSC already distributes Narcan widely in the community, along with Fentanyl and Xylazine test strips.

Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer not approved for human use that’s being added to the illegal drug supply. When combined with fentanyl, it’s especially dangerous, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

McFadden said offering free Narcan and test strips in a vending machine is about meeting people where they are -- and about harm reduction.

“On my way here, I practiced harm reduction. I wore a seatbelt. This morning I practiced harm reduction, I brushed my teeth,” McFadden said. “And then there’s more hands-on harm reduction, like Narcan distribution and test strips. And it’s a very essential part of recovery.”

‘Keenly aware of the need’

A second Narcan machine has been installed in the vestibule of the Knox County Housing Authority’s Moon Towers, 255 W. Tompkins St.

Executive Director Derek Antoine said the housing authority serves populations at risk for housing insecurity, mental health issues – and dependency.

“Often the three go together,” Antoine said.

Amanda Gibson, the housing authority’s mental health resource manager, was already distributing Narcan out of her office as needed.

Antoine said the housing authority decided to partner with ROSC on a vending machine. They chose Moon Towers because it’s centrally located – and because the vestibule is both temperature-controlled and open 24 hours a day.

Antoine said the housing authority encounters the need for Narcan availability on a daily basis, including applicants, residents, and unhoused shelter clients, and others.

“We see the struggle that is faced by so many individuals. Narcan saves lives. Every life saved is an opportunity for someone to turn things around. It’s just one piece of the recovery puzzle, but a necessary piece,” Antoine said. “We certainly aren’t encouraging chemical dependency. More so, we are keenly aware of the need and what we feel is our responsibility in addressing it. Meeting people where they are at is critical in the fight to save lives, and that’s what we are doing.”

‘You can’t recover if you’re dead’

McFadden said he’s received a lot of positive feedback about the Narcan vending machines – and a little bit of negative feedback.

But he tells the story of a friend -- a woman with four kids, ranging in age from a baby to teenagers -- who needed Narcan many times.

 “And now she is rapidly approaching two years in recovery,” McFadden said. “And how grateful do you think those kids are that Narcan was available for their mom?”

McFadden knows many people now in recovery who have needed Narcan and are productive and responsible members of society.

He also knows someone who has needed Narcan six or seven times in the last year and is still suffering from substance use.

“But it makes it possible for him to recover,” McFadden said. “Because there’s a saying in the recovery community – you can’t recover if you’re dead.”

In addition to the vending machines, Narcan is readily available in the Galesburg area through ROSC and to purchase at local pharmacies.

More information on Recovery-Oriented System of Care councils in west central Illinois is available online:

Knox, Warren, Henderson, and Henry counties
Fulton/McDonough Counties

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.