New York Police Given Kits to Combat Overdoses

Apr 3rd, 2014 | By | Category: Rescues

naloxoneBy J. DAVID GOODMAN 

With deaths from heroin and opioid prescription pills soaring, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Thursday is expected to announce a push to have law enforcement officers across the state carry a drug that is effectively an antidote to overdose.

The program, to be funded primarily from $5 million in criminal and civilseizures from drug dealers, would help provide a kit with the drug, naloxone, and the training to use it to every state and local officer in New York, the attorney general’s office said.

The authorities have increasingly seen naloxone, also known under its brand name Narcan, as a potent weapon against a national surge in drug overdoses. Last month, the Justice Department encouraged emergency medical workers across the country to begin carrying the drug.

The move to broaden access in New York is the latest tactic employed by state officials to combat abuse of pills and the rising specter of heroin use. Last year, the state Health Department began more closely tracking prescriptions that are written for the most frequently abused drugs. Early data from the program show a decrease in so-called doctor shoppers, or those who move among many prescribers to get steady access to addictive pills.

But the prescription monitoring program does not catch heroin users, and increasingly New Yorkers are dying. In New York City, there was an 84 percent jump in heroin overdose deaths between 2010 and 2012, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Heroin is destroying our communities,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement ahead of Thursday’s announcement. “Naloxone is stunningly effective at stopping an overdose in its tracks.”

The drug, which has been available for decades in emergency rooms, works on the opiate molecules that attach to the brain and, during an overdose, will fatally slow a person’s breathing. Naloxone effectively bumps them away, restoring breathing in minutes and giving medical workers time to get to a hospital.

For years, only paramedics carried the drug. In 2012, a pilot program in Suffolk County trained emergency medical technicians and half the police officers to administer the drug.

“The first week we had five saves,” said Dr. Scott S. Coyne, the chief surgeon and medical director for the Suffolk County Police Department. It proved so effective at bringing back users in the throes of an overdose that the program quickly expanded to the entire department, he said. To date, police officers there have halted 184 overdoses, Dr. Coyne said.

Late last year, the New York Police Department trained some 180 officers to use the drug on Staten Island, which has seen the city’s most acute problem with heroin and pill overdoses, saving three people in the first three months. The department is currently looking to expand the program across the borough and around the city.

The state’s Good Samaritan law protects those who call the police during an overdose, even if they too were using illegal drugs. Those who administer naloxone are also protected from liability. The drug, which is not habit forming and gives no high to an overdosing user, is nontoxic.

Teri Kroll, an advocate for drug awareness who lost her son Timothy to heroin overdose in 2009, was an early adopter of naloxone on Long Island. She has carried it with her since she was trained to use it in 2010. (Those who are not emergency medical workers must get a doctor’s prescription and training from the Health Department.)

So when Ms. Kroll came upon a young man overdosing in his car last June, she had a dose of naloxone — and a responding police officer did not.

“I put the needle together and asked, ‘Do you want me to do it?’ and he said, ‘yes,’ ” she recalled. “It’s absolutely amazing that when you inject somebody, within seconds it reverses it. Within seconds, he was talking to the police officer.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 3, 2014,  of the New York Times with the headline: Proposal for Police to Carry a Kit to Combat Overdoses. Used courtesy of the author and NYT.

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