Drug Overdose Antidote To Be Carried By Local Law Enforcement
Two local law enforcement agencies are joining police departments across the nation in equipping officers with an antidote to heroin overdoses.
But not everyone agrees allowing police to administer Narcan is the best response to an increase in heroin use.
West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski says heroin wasn’t really on the department’s radar until February. That’s when a Purdue student died from a heroin overdose. And while the incident occurred in Lafayette, Dombkowski realized the department needed to be better prepared to address drug use.
“We’re often the first ones on the scene, police or fire, in West Lafayette specifically," says Dombkowski. "Almost every time we’ll beat an ambulance there. And in those crucial seconds and minutes if we can help save someone’s life it really was a no-brainer for us.”
Tippecanoe County Sheriff Barry Richard says his department is also in the process of equipping all of its officers with Narcan.
He says like West Lafayette, the county will administer the drug in a nasal spray.
“And what makes me comfortable with it…say a deputy would get there and it was not what they thought to be a heroin overdose, they could apply it or administer it and there would be no ill effects from the medication being given to that individual,” says Richard.
“I would say that’s not true," says Michael Tricoci, an emergency room doctor at IU Health Arnett in Lafayette. "There are side effects to Narcan.”
He says while Narcan is relatively safe, there is the potential for an allergic reaction or an inflammatory reaction in the lungs. Tricoci says he’s not necessarily opposed to police departments implementing Narcan programs, but he says they should only do so under the strict supervision of a medical professional.
“There are alternatives," says Tricoci. "We don’t need to give every patient with an opiate overdose Narcan. We can administer oxygen supplementation until EMS arrives.”
The Lafayette Police Department has decided to leave the administering of Narcan to medical professionals. Chief Patrick Flannelly says after discussions with the head of the city’s Emergency Medical Services, he’ believes ambulances almost always arrive fast enough to treat a drug overdose patient, even if a police officer is first on the scene. He says they haven’t had any situations yet where a police officer would have saved a life if he or she had been carrying Narcan.
“In West Lafayette and in the county they’re farther away from primary care facilities," says Flannelly. "So I think as you get further away from these facilities the need for carrying Narcan grows.”
Flannelly says he understands why there’s been a focus on Narcan programs for law enforcement recently, but he thinks more needs to be done to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place or to get those who are using drugs into treatment before Narcan is needed.
“That is the last resort. That is the last chance to save a life," says Flannelly. "My plea at this point is that the sooner we get intervention, the greater chance we have in saving lives. So we don’t want to have to save lives in those moments where someone has overdosed. We really want to get to it long before then.”
That’s just what the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is trying to do. Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs says EMS in Indianapolis started using Narcan regularly in 2013. That year there were more than 600 instances where first responders administered Narcan. That increased to more than 1,000 in 2014. Riggs says IMPD began a pilot program in March of last year and is now in the process of expanding it to all its officers.
But he agrees the program does not address the underlying issue of drug addiction. Riggs says officers have found themselves administering Narcan to the same people multiple times. So IMPD is working to establish partnerships with social service agencies where it can refer people to address their addiction. But he says it’s unlikely that’ll solve the problem.
“We’re talking to a lot of our social service partners, but we’re really coming to the reality that there’s not enough services for all the need that’s out there at this time," says Riggs. "We think that it’ll eventually catch up.”
West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski says a social services component is something WLPD wants to include in its Narcan program, too.
“We have reached out a bit in that area, but that is something that we’ll probably have to continue to put in place," says Dombkowski. "We have a policy in place. We don’t have all of those logistics worked out just yet.”
Indianapolis State Senator Jim Merritt has been advocating for the expanded use of Narcan. A bill he authored last year allowed first responders to carry the drug. Legislation Merritt authored this year allows health care professionals to write a prescription for Narcan for individuals who are at-risk of an opiod-related overdose or have a friend or family member who is. It also requires emergency personnel to report to the state department of health the number of times an overdose intervention medication is administered. He says that’s designed to give officials a more accurate picture of the drug problem in the state, not to keep track of individuals who are using drugs.
“It would be a chilling effect on those families that have addicts," says Merritt. "They would not gravitate toward getting the Narcan if they felt like their family member or friend would be arrested for use.”
Former Tippecanoe County Sheriff Tracy Brown, who is now a county commissioner, says he thinks Narcan programs are a good idea in light of what he calls the heroin “epidemic.”
“It’s not just Tippecanoe County, this is going on around the country," says Brown. "And I think we are seeing law enforcement agencies become more and more comfortable with having law enforcement staff receive the training. And the follow-up on it has been pretty incredible.”
The sheriff’s department and the West Lafayette Police Department hope to have their Narcan programs in place by the end of the month.