There have been times when a Brownstown Police Department officer was the first to arrive on the scene of a reported overdose.
In those instances, they were able to perform basic first aid and put the person in the recovery position.
They, however, had to wait until emergency medical services or other law enforcement personnel equipped with naloxone arrived to administer the medicine, which usually comes in the form of a nasal spray and works by counteracting the effects of an overdose of heroin or other opiate. Naloxone also is known by the trade name Narcan.
Brownstown Police Chief Tom Hanner decided it was time to contact the Jackson County Health Department to have his officers trained to administer naloxone and receive a supply to carry.
Hanner said he hopes officers never have to use it, but with the drug epidemic across the country, it’s necessary for them to know how to administer naloxone.
“We have to have it,” Hanner said. “Unfortunately, I feel if the opiate epidemic doesn’t get curbed here and something gets a better handle on it, we’re going to be administering our doses. It’s going to happen.”
The department is starting out with 30 doses. In the event of an overdose, it can take one or more doses of naloxone to revive a person.
“It’s unfortunate this 30 doses we have, we have the potential of going through that in a weekend if a strong dose of opiate hits the street,” Hanner said.
In the last 10 years, Hanner said law enforcement issues have gone from methamphetamine users and meth labs to opiate users and overdoses.
“New officers that come in now weren’t involved in things the way they were 10 to 15 years ago. (Opiates are) the norm they are coming into,” he said.
“For us to tell them they are going to have to (carry naloxone), it’s just accepted because they’ve kind of grown up in this phase,” he said. “For us who have been around a little longer, it’s hard for us to swallow we’re at this point because we know how hard we’ve tried to put a stop to the meth and meth labs.”
Hanner and his officers are working with Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator with the health department, to learn more about naloxone and become certified to carry it.
Not only can having access to naloxone save someone’s life, Hanner said officers are carrying it for their own safety, too. When responding to a person who overdosed on an illicit drug, law enforcement or EMS personnel could be exposed to it and have to be hospitalized.
The health department is in its third year of receiving a grant to distribute naloxone for free, Montgomery said. The funding comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and goes to the Indiana State Department of Health to make it available for local health departments to apply for it.
“We had chosen the priorities of making certain that our first responders that don’t have another source could get a supply from us,” Montgomery said. “That includes the smaller police departments and volunteer fire departments that make medical runs.”
Montgomery said the medication is expensive, and it isn’t built into these departments’ budgets.
“We can give it to them for free,” she said. “I think we’re doing a good service by making it available.”
The health department also has supplied the Seymour Fire Department and a few volunteer fire departments in the county with naloxone. Any department that hasn’t received training and a free supply of naloxone may contact Montgomery.
This year, the health department also supplied Brownstown Central, Seymour, Medora, Crothersville and Trinity Lutheran high schools with naloxone kits.
The opiate overdose reversal drug also is available to individuals in the community.
Montgomery said the training usually takes about 20 minutes, and the medication has about a two-year shelf life.
“If they don’t have Narcan, they can’t administer that, and every minute that you don’t get to administer that, you’re putting that individual at a higher risk for not recovering,” Montgomery said.
When people think of naloxone, Montgomery said they typically associate it with illicit drug use. But it also can be used on senior citizens who accidentally overdose on an opiate pain prescription or a child or teenager who may get access to that type of medication.
“They don’t often know what they are getting a hold of, so it’s not just the heroin user that we’re wanting this Narcan for,” Montgomery said. “It’s for anybody, and when those fire departments and police departments have to respond to a run, they don’t know what they are going to walk into.”
The Indiana State Department of Health says the state has seen a staggering increase in the number of overdose deaths tied to heroin and other opioids since 2000, and the state ranked 16th nationally in 2014 for drug overdose deaths.
In 2010, Indiana saw 54 deaths caused by heroin overdose, according to the state health department. In 2014, there were 170 heroin-related deaths, 452 opioid deaths and 2,822 non-fatal drug poisoning-related emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses. Other opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and other prescription painkillers, add to this number.
In recent years, laws have been passed in Indiana to give police officers, firefighters, EMS personnel and the general public access to naloxone, either free or through a prescription.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department has had its officers and detectives carry at least one unit in their vehicles since 2015. Sheriff Mike Carothers said they have administered doses about a dozen times in the past two years.
Crothersville Police Chief Brent Turner said his department also has carried naloxone in their cars for two years. He said he has administered it twice this year, while other officers have used it three times.
Seymour Police Department’s officers have carried naloxone in their vehicles since the fall of 2015. Chief Bill Abbott said most of them keep it with the automated external defibrillator kits that are assigned to their vehicles.
He said the majority of officers carry two doses of naloxone, and the department has up to 25 doses available to the on-duty units at any given time and keeps an additional supply available to restock.
In 2016, Seymour officers used 28 doses of naloxone on 23 people. This year, it’s up to nearly 80 doses on 38 people.
Jackson County EMS has carried naloxone in its ambulances since 1983, but it wasn’t used as much back then as it is today, Executive Director Dennis Brasher said.
In one month last year, he said personnel responded to 27 overdoses. Then one weekend in October of this year, they responded to 11 overdoses during a weekend. In an average year, Brasher said they respond to about 80 reported overdoses.
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To find a naloxone dispenser near you or to register as a dispenser, visit optin.in.gov.