After man’s heroic effort to reverse overdose, Cook County sheriff receives 2,000 naloxone devices

A Kentucky pharmaceutical company made the donation after seeing a TV news report on Matthew McFarland saving someone from overdosing at a West Side gas station.

SHARE After man’s heroic effort to reverse overdose, Cook County sheriff receives 2,000 naloxone devices
Matthew McFarland naloxone

Matthew McFarland demonstrates the device that will administer naloxone, which helps reverse an opioid overdose.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Matthew McFarland estimates he’s saved 50 people from overdoses.

Last month, he revived a man who overdosed in the parking lot of a West Side gas station.

“It took three plugs of naloxone to revive them, and it was close,” McFarland said. “But we were able to save his life, and I’m grateful for that.”

For those life-or-death moments, McFarland always carries naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, which helps reverse an opioid overdose.

“You just never know, which is why I always have it every day everywhere I go,” McFarland said.

After seeing a TV news report showing McFarland saving the man in July, a Kentucky pharmaceutical company contacted McFarland to donate 2,000 naloxone devices. McFarland directed the donation to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

“I thought we need to get this into the hands of somebody who has a wider reach than us,” said McFarland, who works for the Lawndale Christian Legal Center. “The first thing I thought of was Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.”

At a news conference Monday, McFarland and Dart announced the donation.

McFarland is a recovering addict who spent years in and out of the criminal justice system. Eight years ago, right before he got sober, he sat in a Cook County Jail cell.

Matthew McFarland naloxone Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

Matthew McFarland holds a device that administers naloxone as Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart looks on.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

“There were many times in my addiction that I was revived using naloxone. It’s really incredible I’m actually standing here today because I shouldn’t be,” McFarland said, holding his mug shot from an arrest in December 2015. “I never thought I’d be here today, and I definitely didn’t think the sheriff would be standing at my shoulder.”

McFarland has been sober since he entered a Cook County drug court recovery program eight years ago. Since then, he started working for nonprofits that advocate for bail reform and offer support to people returning from incarceration.

“Since I got out of jail and did the hokey-pokey and [turned] my life around, I’ve been working tirelessly in our community here at Lawndale Christian Legal Center and with former employers to help people like me, who suffered from addiction like me,” McFarland said.

He recently worked for The Bail Project, a national organization that pays bail for people who can’t afford it. He does similar work as the legal center’s vice president of procedural justice and residential workforce development.

It was those efforts that brought him to the Amoco gas station in North Lawndale last month.

WBBM-TV was interviewing him about the end of cash bail in Illinois when someone rushed into the gas station to get help for the man outside overdosing on heroin laced with fentanyl.

Matthew McFarland overdose outside a North Lawndale gas station Chicago

Matthew McFarland administers aid to a man overdosing outside a North Lawndale gas station in July.

CBS News Chicago

McFarland, already miked for the interview, grabbed the naloxone he keeps in his car and went to the man’s aid.

“I said, I can’t do this interview. I’ve got to address this person,” McFarland said. “Little did I know that the cameras were still rolling while this was happening.”

Shannon Clark, director of marketing and advocacy for US WorldMeds — a pharmaceutical company in Louisville, Kentucky, that manufactures and distributes naloxone — contacted McFarland after the report aired in July.

naloxone device

One of the 2,000 naloxone devices that will be donated to the sheriff’s office at the Lawndale Christian Legal Center.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Clark told McFarland the company wanted to send him its latest version of naloxone, called Zimhi, which has been on the market for a year. The product contains five milligrams of naloxone, the maximum dose, in a compact injector that makes it easier to quickly administer the drug.

McFarland requested 2,000 doses because overdose deaths in Cook County reached 2,000 last year, an all-time high.

“What you see here today on this table is representative of what we can do about the 2,000 lives that were lost last year to drug overdoses,” McFarland said.

Boxes naloxone devices Lawndale Christian Legal Center Chicago

Boxes full of naloxone devices that will be donated to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office at stacked at the Lawndale Christian Legal Center. “What you see here today on this table is representative of what we can do about the 2,000 lives that were lost last year to drug overdoses,” McFarland said.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“We need this so desperately,” Dart said. “And our folks are so appreciative of this because it is going to be used immediately, unfortunately.”

McFarland picked the sheriff’s office to make sure it reaches all parts of Cook County — and because a sheriff’s deputy saved his life eight years ago with naloxone.

He overdosed on heroin in his mother’s bathroom in the south suburbs. They didn’t have any naloxone. Luckily, the deputy arrived and revived him with Narcan.

“I never would have had a chance to get sober if they didn’t keep me alive that day,” McFarland said. “All I try to do is help people the way that so many people helped me.”

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