The Cautionary Instruction: Arm police with drug to reverse overdoses

Friday, 07 February 2014 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

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As heroin overdoses have soared in Western Pennsylvania and across the country, more police departments are taking a hard look at equipping their police officers and other first responders with overdose reversing drug, Naloxone. Police are often the first to arrive at the scene, and experts say those early minutes can be the key to saving a life.

Since Quincy, MA police officers began carrying a nasal form of the drug, known by its trade name, Narcan, in October 2010, they have administered the drug 221 times and reversed 211 overdoses.

Narcan binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, displacing other drugs and reversing the effects. It works as an opioid antagonist, essentially reviving an unresponsive patient within seconds. Narcan can be administered by injection into a muscle or as a nasal spray and lasts 30 to 90 minutes.

Starting next week, Lorain County law enforcement officers will begin carrying Narcan “We are taking the initiative along with the risk, but it’s worth it because we are going to save lives,” said Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans.

St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch wants his department to be the Midwest’s first to carry the antidote, and he met recently with the National Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse to lobby for support.

St. Louis County Police Association president Gabe Crocker called it an “aggressive approach” that officers would support. “I see this as no different than adding another tool to our first-aid kit to save a life,” he said.

Vermont state troopers are also training to use Narcan. "So the troopers across the state understand what Narcan is all about. The last thing I would want to happen is a trooper go into an apartment where an overdose is taking place, someone is trying to administer Narcan, and a trooper took action [to stop it]," Vermont State Police Col. Tom L’Esperance said.

The public safety department in Espanola Valley, New Mexico in early 2013 became the first police agency in the Southwest to equip its police and first responders with Narcan.

In Ocean County, NJ when overdose deaths doubled from 53 in 2012 to 112 in 2013, the criminal justice community looked at every option to address the problem including equipping officers with Narcan.

In Pittsburgh, every Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., a group of volunteers, including physicians, offer Narcan prescriptions for free at the Oakland Needle Exchange on Forbes Avenue, in the rear of the Allegheny County Health Department. They also teach users how to administer Narcan.

Now is the time to arm law enforcement officers with Narcan. Anything less in Western Pennsylvania would be an injustice and result in needless loss of life.

(Image: Narcan is a nasal spray used as an antidote for opiate drug overdoses  The drug counteracts the effects of heroin, OxyContin and other powerful painkillers and has been routinely used by ambulance crews and emergency rooms in the U.S. and other countries for decades. Charles Krupa/Associated Press)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.

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