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Ocean County Police Officers Train With Heroin 'Antidote' Drug

Narcan can save lives, but is just one tool in heroin fight, prosecutor says

A Narcan nasal spray dispenser being demonstrated at the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, Toms River, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
A Narcan nasal spray dispenser being demonstrated at the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, Toms River, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Brick Police Sgt. Mike Drew is one of many police officers in Ocean County who has been tasked with the responsibility of leading his department's use of Narcan, a nasal spray that can temporarily reverse the deadly effects of a heroin overdose.

Officers from around Ocean County trained this week in the use of the drug, also called Naxolone, that has been credited with saving hundreds of lives when used by first responders in other states. The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office is leading a pilot program to have the drug carried by police officers and others in the Garden State.

"We do have, obviously, a pretty big heroin problem," said Drew. "So this will definitely help the officers. It’s now just a matter of getting it on the road."

The Brick department is one of 31 departments – out of 32 countywide – that are participating in the Narcan pilot. Friday morning's training session at the office of the county prosecutor was one of two held this week to formally introduce the program.

In Ocean County, the training and the Narcan supplies are being paid for by money seized from drug dealers.

Window of Opportunity

Narcan doesn't guarantee that a person who overdoses on heroin will be saved, said training coodinator Dr. Kenneth Lavelle, though it presents first responders with a window of opportunity to reverse the heart-slowing effects of opium – whether it is heroin or a prescription pill overdose – and get a victim to the hospital for further treatment.

"If the patient is already in cadiac arrest, if their heart has already stopped, Narcan won't help at all," Lavelle said. "But what would help, is if they've stopped breathing, a first responder can breathe for them, and this would help them to breathe again on their own."

"This is most useful when someone has injected so much [heroin] that they've stopped breathing, and they've got a couple minutes before brain cells die," he said. "That would be when somebody finds them turning blue, or when their breathing stops."

Narcan, essentially, gives first responders – or even family members of addicts who are trained in the administration of the drug – a window to help, said Lavelle.

Laws Catching Up to Reality

The pilot program in Ocean County comes nearly a year after Gov. Chris Christie signed into law the Overdose Prevention Act, a measure that made it legal for both police officers and family members of addicts to carry Narcan. The law also bestows legal immunity upon police officers and ordinary citizens who try to use the drug to help an overdose victim.

The law, and the pilot program, come as drug overdose deaths – primarily attributed to heroin – doubled in a year's time in Ocean County between 2012 and 2013. So far in 2014, the death toll is keeping up with the previous year's numbers, officials have said.

"There's no liability that comes to the police officer," said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. "It's right in the statute."

Certain aspects of Narcan's legality still need to be worked out, however. As it currently stands, members of EMS squads cannot administer Narcan, and many physicians are reluctant to prescribe it to family members or friends of addicts citing liability concerns.

Coronato said he received a waiver for Ocean County police officers who are also volunteer EMTs in their spare time, enabling them to dispense the drug while they are working as police officers. He is also working with state health agencies in hopes of creating training courses that can be completed by family members of addicts in order to ease physicians' concerns about writing prescriptions for the drug.

"If you look in Quincy, Massachusetts, they've already saved more than 100 lives with this," said Coronato. "What we're really trying to save lives and trying to make a difference."
Clementine March 03, 2014 at 07:36 AM
@Anthony writes: "I fail to see anything negative about this. If you're thinking it's just going to be a "safety net" so addicts can do more drugs, you're wrong. Research studies have investigated this common concern and found that making naloxone available does NOT encourage people to use opiates more. The goal of distributing naloxone and educating people about how to prevent, recognize and intervene in overdoses is to prevent deaths. Other goals, such as decreasing drug use, can only be accomplished if the user is alive." I love this statement! But here's the inherent problem: Narcan is often given to an overdose case with no follow up care in terms of rehab stay. And THAT is where the failure lies. Treating the symptom, and not the disease. The fact that family members are trained to administer Narcan scares me to death. So the addict ODs. Mom (or whoever) administers Narcan, there is an ensuing crisis and maybe there's an agreement to go to rehab. But it is more often than not followed through. Once a crisis is averted, things go back to the status quo. It's terrifying. If it were insulin shock or anaphylaxis, you can bet the family would call 911 or get the person to the ER. But as long as people roll their eyes and say stupid stuff like "what a waste" or "it's just another junkie overdosing" and TREAT addicts like second class people who choose to live under the immense shadow of addiction (because, let's face it, the "choice" was removed long ago), addicts will continue to die out of shame. All just my humble opinion, I know. But I like what you said very much, Anthony. Thank you.
Clementine March 03, 2014 at 07:43 AM
I was actually referring to something more like a TC, but maybe "more", @Anthony. And the Salvation Army is a cracker-jack outfit that actually works well because it's a no-frills situation. I especially object to those day-spa rehabs to which you refer. But I think we might be talking at cross purposes here, as well. I'm specifically talking about the addicts who are *consistent* guests of the jails, who are arrested on drug-related charges again and again, not those who seek help of their own volition (or even with the court's initial intervention). The self-motivated aren't the targets of my discussion. It's the addicts who go to rehab and play the game, get out, give 1/2 measures to get off probation, holding onto their reservations the whole time. I know what's out there and what's not. I also know that sending an addict back to "people, places and things" too soon is an unfortunate side effect of managed health insurance. 28 days just isn't enough to do anything deeply lasting, IMO. Many moons ago, a 6 month stay in a rehab was easily within anyone's reach. And the difference it made was amazing, as I'm sure you can understand. Half-way houses were abundant, PHP and IOP were aftercare for those who were just released. You didn't have to "fail outpatient" first to go to rehab (and I've personally known 2 addicts who died doing just that), and you didn't have to "be high" at the time of intake to stay. Discovery House is a wonderful institution! Been around forever! and there's a reason for it. They have a good grasp on the balance of discipline. I certainly did not mean to dismiss the awesome works of rehabs... or RECOVEREES... more power to you for walking the walk!! You should be proud of yourself! I have one family member in IOP, by choice, and doing well. I would never underrate the success there. On the other hand, I have another family member who's been in and out of the legal AND rehab scene for the better part of twenty years, and could use a work-camp setting. of course, there ARE those who are "constitutionally unable" to maintain sobriety. So, I'm fully apologetic to you Anthony, and any one else to whom I wasn't clear. I'm all for those who can and do manage their addiction! ODAAT.
Kennard Willis March 10, 2014 at 10:06 PM
First of all this is not causing taxes to go up the drug is less than 2.00$ per dose. Since when is one life more valuable then another Mr tr
tr March 10, 2014 at 11:45 PM
@Kennard Willis $2.00 per dose is paid by tax dollars. The training of the officers is paid by tax dollars. The decisions of our police officers, if incorrect, is paid by tax dollars. What world do you live in? You be lookin at this wrong, man! Get your mind right. Where you be at on this? Did you vote for the current President? If so that explains it.

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