Should police officers carry 'miracle drug' to reverse heroin overdoses?

Photo provided by staff
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 9:00am

Heroin use is on the rise in the Baton Rouge area, as is the number of people who have died from it. But there's a type of medication that paramedics carry, which can save someone's life if they overdose.

"It works immediately when you administer it," said Mike Chustz, a spokesperson for East Baton Rouge EMS, "and it saves many, many lives each day throughout the country."

Naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is relatively inexpensive compared to other medications that paramedics carry. It comes in an injectable form and a nasal spray, and can be the difference between life and death for someone who overdoses on heroin, morphine, or other narcotics.

When someone overdoses on an opiate like heroin, they stop breathing. After a couple minutes, they suffer brain damage, and then they can die a few minutes later. Narcan gets them breathing again, giving them a much higher chance at surviving.

It can also give a medical professional a lot of information.

"What's so nice about the drug is it really has no known side effects in our setting," Chustz mentioned. "So if we have someone who's unconscious, unresponsive, and we're not sure what's wrong with them, we can give them this medication just to see if it has an impact. And if it turns out to be an overdose on any type of opiate, this stuff will reverse it immediately."

On a medical emergency call, paramedics are often first on scene, allowing them to administer the medication within the crucial first few minutes of the overdose. But when a crime is involved, they have to wait.

"And for the scene to be safe, we have to be cleared to enter by the police or sheriff's department, or some type of police personnel," Chustz stated. "So they usually are on the scene first in many of these cases."

That is why a couple of police departments nationally have started equipping officers with Narcan nasal spray, and they report saving a life in more than 90 percent of their cases. Police in Louisiana are not allowed to administer medication, but Chustz believes it is an idea worth considering.

"It could make a difference, if they had it and was trained to administer it, if they got there before the paramedics did," he said. "Each officer that would carry it would have to go through several
hours of training on what it's for and how to administer it."

EMS paramedics receive nearly a full year of training when they are hired, and they are required to take continuing education courses throughout their careers.

"Our paramedics have 1,200-1,400 hours of training before they're out on the street, and they still do three to six months of field training with a paramedic supervisor while they're out, so we go through a lot of training before we start administering any kind of pre-hospital medication."

There are medications that can save people from overdoses of cocaine and other drugs, but Chustz claims none of them are as effective as Narcan is against heroin.

"It's really what I would kinda call a miracle drug, for what it's designed for," he stated. "It works, it works fantastic."

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