The Wauseon and Delta police departments have armed officers with a medication that reverses the often deadly effects of narcotic overdoses they may encounter on patrol.
Twenty-four officers between the two departments completed a four-hour training session last week to administer naloxone intranasally to overdose victims. Naloxone will block or reverse the effects of an opioid, a type of narcotic pain medication.
A naloxone kit will be attached to an automatic external defibrillator carried by patrol officers on duty. Administering the medication through an intranasal dose has almost immediate effects that can save an individual in the throes of a drug overdose.
Training police officers to administer naloxone is in response to an increased number of overdose deaths in Fulton County, Wauseon Police Chief Keith Torbet said. Four overdoses were reported last week alone, one in Wauseon and three elsewhere in the county. Two of the cases proved fatal.
“That seems to be the trend right now,” Torbet said of opioid use. The category of narcotic can include heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
Wauseon police applied for and received a Justice Assistance Grant through the State of Ohio totaling $4,970. It will allow Fulton County law enforcement agencies to purchase naloxone, which goes by brand names Narcan and Evzio. Each nasal dose costs about $70.
The medication can also be applied through an intravenous push or a shot. However, an intranasal application can show faster results.
The training of Wauseon road staff, part-time officers, and some of the dispatch staff was assisted by city fire department personnel, whose emergency medical technicians have treated overdose victims with naloxone for years.
“If you can use a nasal inhaler you can do this. If we run across an unresponsive, unconscious, unattended person, this is going to be one of the first treatments,” Torbet said.
“We’ve got a cost effective solution to maybe help a person get cleaned up and change their life. We know it’s a struggle. This is not an easy demon to beat.”
Phil Kessler, Wauseon’s first assistant fire chief, said the city’s EMTs have long used naloxone intranasally or in IVs to treat overdoses. He said the police staff approached his department for training after the State of Ohio offered grants for the medication to public safety departments.
Nalaxone may exhibit side effects, “but the benefit of having the drug outweighs the risk,” Kessler said. “Seconds matter. It could be the difference between life and death.”
The results of the medication are close to instantaneous in reversing the clinical effects of opioids, said Rachel Durham, Fulton County Health Center pharmacy director. And while naloxone reverses the effects of an overdose, it has no adverse effect when administered to a person who may only appear to be having an overdose.
“Naloxone is a go-to drug. I know our community has been plagued with drug abuse issues, so it’s a good thing for the Fulton County police forces to carry this,” she said.
The medication works by competing with receptors in the body on which the opioid is working. Durham agreed that in particular cases risks could be involved in its use, “but the alternative is, the person could die of a narcotic overdose.”
Delta Police Chief Nathan Hartsock said for several months he considered supplying naloxone in the village’s patrol vehicles, but initially remained undecided.
“I’ve been a police officer for 23 years, and typically we don’t administer medication. That’s what EMTs are for,” he said.
It was the current proliferation of heroin use that changed his mind.
“Heroin just became ridiculous,” Hartsock said. “I thought, we need to do something different. Until we get a grasp on this heroin situation we have an obligation. Ultimately, our number one goal is to save people’s lives.”
The village department’s protocol permits using naloxone if an officer has an articulatable suspicion that an individual is in an opioid state. All officers have been trained in its use, and each patrol car now carries dosage.
Delta has experienced a couple of deaths from heroin overdoses, “and one death was enough in this town,” Hartsock said. “Given the situation, this is the best option we’ve got.”
Torbet said citizens who may question why small-town police forces need medicine to counteract heroin overdoses “need to pull their head out of the sand. It’s happening everywhere. When it’s cheaper to get heroin than a six-pack of alcohol, it’s a problem. It’s our job to protect our citizens, even if we have to protect them from themselves.”
Due to the expense, Torbet will likely approach Wauseon’s mayor and the city’s Safety and Code Committee about billing recipients of naloxone for the cost. “They should be paying for it…not the taxpayer,” he said.
Hartsock said that decision may fall to the courts, but he’d like to see it happen.
“Somehow, society’s paying for this all around as it is. There should be a downside to this, accountability for people who are doing this,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.