(K.S. BROOKS/Chewelah Independent)
Chewelah officers can use Narcan to save lives of people experiencing a drug overdose…
Opioid overdoses have reached epidemic proportions in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Chewelah Police Officers will now be carrying Narcan to help combat it.
Molly Corvino, Community Health Specialist for Northeast Tri County Health District, provided Narcan training to the department on February 8, 2019.
Corvino has trained and provided naloxone kits to the Newport Police Department, Pend Oreille Sheriff’s Office and Chewelah Police, and later this week she will do the same for the Ferry County Sheriff’s Office. It’s important for police departments to have access to the Narcan, Corvino said, because “Law enforcement officers often arrive at the scene of an overdose before emergency medical services, especially in rural areas. Earlier intervention is key since brain damage from lack of oxygen can begin in just minutes.”
Chewelah Police Chief Mark Burrows said, “Officers of the Chewelah PD are thankful to have Narcan for the purpose of protecting life in our community.
“I believe it is very unfortunate, however, that Narcan has become a necessity, and drug users would be mistaken to view Narcan as a safety net.”
Thanks to a grant through the UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI), all police department employees were issued the Narcan, in nasal spray form. It is said to revive the victim within one to three minutes of application. An ambulance is still necessary since there is no way for officers to determine how much opioid is actually in the person’s system, and further medical treatment will be needed.
Naloxone, the generic name for Narcan, is available without a prescription at pharmacies in most states, including Washington. Scott Weiner, MD, suggested on the Harvard Medical School Health Blog that civilians who have loved ones taking large doses of prescription opioids should carry naloxone in case of an overdose. He went on to say that “Naloxone is only sufficient to save the life of a person who is actively overdosing. This antidote does nothing to prevent future overdoses, nor does it address the longer-term treatment needs of patients with substance use disorders.”
While it is available to the general public, law enforcement has been coming on board cautiously due to liability concerns. This is a somewhat precarious predicament for officers, as many drug users will mix opioids with other illegal drugs and, once revived by the Narcan, may be disoriented and possibly violent.
In Washington State, there is a Good Samaritan Law (RCW 69.50.315) which protects the person overdosing from being arrested (unless they have previous warrants). It also protects anyone who notifies first responders of the overdosing individual. “A person acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance… if the evidence for the charge of possession of a controlled substance was obtained as a result of the person seeking medical assistance,” the Stranger wrote in an article.
Last week, The Independent reported that a new drop box for prescription drugs was installed at St. Joseph’s Hospital. They will accept prescription drugs, including opioids, from those wanting to safely dispose of them.
Meanwhile, Chewelah Police will be armed and ready to implement Narcan in cases of overdoses not only to civilians, but also to fellow first responders. Fentanyl, an incredibly powerful opioid which can be lethal through accidental contact, is a serious concern for LEOs and other first responders. Luckily, Narcan has been a successful antidote for fentanyl overdoses. You can find more information on naloxone and opioid overdoses at stopoverdose.org.
WHAT IS NARCAN?
Narcan is the brand name for a drug called naloxone that block the effects of an opioid, including respiratory depression. Narcan is also used for diagnosis of suspected or known acute opioid overdose and also for blood pressure support in septic shock. Opioids like heroin bind to opioid receptors to relax you and essentially slow you down. In high doses, opioids can slow down breathing and heart rate to the point of oxygen deprivation.