Matthew McFarland estimates he’s saved 50 people from overdoses.
Just 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 its 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 local TV news segment showing McFarland saving the man in July, a Kentucky-based pharmaceutical company reached out to 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.”
McFarland and Dart spoke during a Monday news conference announcing the naloxone donation.
The moment was surreal for McFarland. He 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.
“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 up 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. In the time since, he began working for nonprofits that advocate for bail reform and provide reentry support for people returning from incarceration.
“Since I got out of jail and did the hokey pokey and turn 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 continues to do 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.
CBS 2 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.
McFarland, already miked for the interview, immediately 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 from Louisville, Kentucky, that manufactures and distributes naloxone — contacted McFarland after the segment aired in July.
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 has 5 mg of naloxone, the max dose, in a compact injector that makes it easier to quickly administer the lifesaving drug.
McFarland requested 2,000 doses for a reason. 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.
Dart said the donation will go a long way toward helping his office fight the worsening opioid epidemic.
“When I heard about this, I was over the moon. We need this so desperately. And our folks are so appreciative of this because it is going to be used immediately, unfortunately,” Dart said.
McFarland picked the sheriff’s office to make sure it reaches all parts of Cook County — and because a Cook County 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 on hand. Luckily, the sheriff’s office 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.”