A few weeks ago, if an Ocean View police officer arrived on the scene of a suspected drug overdose, they were unable to administer naloxone hydrochloride — more commonly known as Narcan — a drug that can counteract the effects of an overdose of opioid drugs, legal or otherwise.
“We’re the first agency in the state to have it. In fact, we’re the only agency in the state to have it,” said OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin.
All the officers in the department completed a 30-minute online training course, overseen by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, prior to being able to receive access to the drug.
“You put it in the nose and give it a squirt, and it counteracts the effects of the overdose,” said McLaughlin of the ease of administering Narcan.
The drug comes as a nasal spray in kits that include sterile gloves and will be kept in the trunks of officers’ cars.
“We’ve got a pretty good track record of being first on the scene. Our policy is that we respond to all EMS and fire calls within our jurisdiction. If nothing else, we’re an extra set of hands for the guys on the ambulance to help them with the stretcher or traffic control.”
The drug does not have any adverse effects on the person treated, whether they’ve overdosed or not, so it can be safely administered even when an overdose is only suspected, rather than known.
According to the Center for Decease Control, middle-aged adults have the highest overdose rate, and those in rural counties are twice as likely to overdose on prescription medications as those who live in urban areas.
McLaughlin said that, with the heroin problem facing the whole country, he wanted his department to look at what it could do to respond to the problem.
“I don’t know that it’s getting worse, but it’s certainly not getting any better. It’s out there; we know it’s out there. It seems to be a growing problem in the state of Delaware and throughout the United States.
“We sat down and said, ‘We know it’s a problem. Everybody’s talking about it. What are we going to do about it?’ One of the things we looked at — we knew we were going on these overdose calls, and we’re getting there and we’re basically helpless.”
The department has responded to a number of overdoses over the years; however, a recent call to aid a 25-year-old man hit McLaughlin hard.
“We didn’t have this drug at the time… This one, in particular, it was a man who grew up in the area… It was a little frustrating to me, knowing that these guys got there as soon as they could. There were obvious signs of heroin use — the guy still had a needle in his arm — and these guys jumped on him with CPR and the defibrillator, and were unsuccessful.
“That particular case bothered me… that we weren’t able to do more, knowing that this stuff was out there and that other police departments across the country had been using it for years. It was part of their first aid kit.”
In August, Gov. Jack Markell signed House Bill 388, allowing law enforcement officers to carry and administer the medication. The bill provides legal immunity to officers who administer the drug in good faith.
“By equipping law enforcement officers with an important tool to prevent deadly overdoses, we can help reduce the toll that heroin and other dangerous opiates are taking on our state,” said Markell at the bill signing. “This simple piece of legislation has the potential to save lives.”
McLaughlin said amnesty is granted to those who call law enforcement to have them administer the drug, as well as those who have overdosed.
“We want to encourage them to call us. We don’t want to discourage them to call us out of fear that they might get in trouble.”
Prior to signing HB 288, Markell signed a companion bill, Senate Bill 219, allowing family, friends and members of the community to buy Narcan after they have been trained by the Department of Health & Social Services.
“If you had a child that was a heroin addict, you could go through this class,” said McLaughlin.
Once the legislation was passed, McLaughlin said, he jumped on the opportunity to have his officers carry Narcan.
“Our job is to save lives,” along with enforcement, he said.
The New Castle County Police Department is following the OVPD in getting its officers certified to carry the drug and is currently in the certification process.
“We wanted to get a strategy to do something,” McLaughlin explained. “Having our guys carry this is just one part of that.”