ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office has teamed up with the health department to address opioid overdoses in the community.

Two free Narcan vending machines are now available in Downton Rockford, and leaders called them important tools to save lives. Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana said that his patrol division distributes Narcan on a regular basis, but the lifesaving medication is now available to the public.

“We put one in the Justice Center at 650 W. State Street and the other one at 420 W. State Street, the old Public Safety Building,” Caruana said. “We felt that’s accessible to the public if they need them.”

Narcan, the brand name for the drug naloxone, can reverse the effects of a drug overdose. County leaders hope that the vending machine project will increase Narcan distribution in the community.

All people have to do is punch in a number next to their zip code and they will dispense a two-dose box of the drug.

“It reduces stigma,” said Dr. Sandra Martell, administrator at the Winnebago County Health Department. “It’s out in the open, just like the candy and soda machines here.”

Martell said that the number of reported opioid deaths in Winnebago County remains high. One-hundred thirty people died from an opioid overdose in 2019, and that number jumped to 157 in 2020. There were 147 opioid deaths in 2021.

People who use the free vending machines are asked to voluntarily register through a website and respond to surveys.

“The information that we ask is not, ‘Who did you use it on?’ It’s, you know, approximately ‘Where were you at at the time?’ ‘Did it work?’ right,” Martell said. “We have reports from our first responder community. They’re very good about getting hospital data, but we don’t know about what we call bystander or lay person community resident saves.”

The sheriff said that the locations of the vending machines should not deter anyone from using them.

“People might feel like, because it’s here we’re enforcing the law. No, we’re not,” Caruana said. “This is not a law enforcement effort, this is a community effort to save people’s lives.”

Additional machines could be added in the future if the health department can demonstrate their impact on the community.