Published On: Sun, Mar 13th, 2016

Police Hope to Save Lives with Antidote to Overdose

We are only 60 days into the year and already fire-rescue emergency medical technicians in Delray Beach have given 10 overdose victims a second chance to live.

The first responders have been carrying a drug called naloxone — known commonly by its trade name, Narcan — that can reverse a heroin overdose, after they saw a very large uptick of heroin overdoses.

Hailed as the recovering capital of America, Delray Beach is the epicenter in South Florida. Addiction to heroin and to prescription opioids has become so common in the city, which has more than 200 licensed recovery programs and more than 100 “sober homes.”

Last year alone there were 26 heroin overdoses in the city and there was a time when rescue personnel were using the medicine so often, they ran out of supply. (In the first two weeks of 2014, police seized more heroin than in the past 10 years combined.)

The number of overdose cases continues to soar, so much that in an effort to save lives, police officers on Tuesday began hauling the life-saving antidote around along with all the accoutrements they currently tote.

The drug comes in a liquid vial, but is delivered into the nose as a fine mist through an atomizer.

Should someone who is unconscious, blue and not breathing from an overdose of heroin or opioid painkillers be given an injection or nasal spray of naloxone, it is almost guaranteed that he or she will be sitting up and talking in one to three minutes.  

Fire-Rescue personnel trained the supervisors who are the custodians of the drug for their shifts.

Once administered to addicts who have overdosed, the medicine prevents the disastrous effects of opioids, most notably respiratory failure, and gives emergency responders, family members or friends, a 30- to 90-minute window to get the victim to the hospital for more advanced care.

Before paramedics began administering naloxone, overdose victims often died of those effects while others looked on helplessly.

Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman said their mission is to provide public safety, and naloxone is another tool to help them do that. No officer wants to notify a family that a loved one may have died from a heroin overdose, and they have done that 10 times to date this year, he said.

As opiate overdoses have soared nationwide, law enforcement agencies all over the country are beginning to train their officers in how to use naloxone and provide them with kits. Police are often the first to arrive at the scene, and experts say those early minutes can be the key to saving a life. The New York City Police Department is doing this on Staten Island, where the death rate from opioid overdose is roughly four times that of other boroughs.

I applaud Chief Goldman and all those who responsible for this decision because instead of saying, ‘It is not really part of our job,’ they have taken another approach and are treating drug addiction as a disease.

Statistics show that deaths from overdose of heroin and prescription opioids more than tripled nationally between 2000 and 2010. Overdose is now the leading cause of injury-related death, surpassing auto crashes. It kills twice as many people in the United States each year as AIDS.

I recall the time when we thought of heroin as an inner-city drug. That’s no longer the case. Today, it is a middle-class drug.

Just recently the operator of one of our local recovery centers told me that the number of OD cases because of heroin brought to their doorsteps has skyrocketed as many as 10 times.

Let’s face it folks, just like the homeless population, the latest problem is here to stay. What are we going to do about it?

Medical professionals have been using naloxone, like defibrillators, for years. So, like defibrillators, it may be a good idea to have the resuscitation sprays in public places throughout the city.

C. Ron Allen can be reached at crallen@DelrayBeachTribune.com or 561-665-0151.

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