Push for Police to Use Narcan to Revive Heroin Overdose Victims

Naloxone, an effective drug for reviving heroin overdose victims, is currently not allowed for use by police officers, even though they can be first to reach an overdose victim. That could change soon as the district attorney, chiefs across the county and local politicians look to change current regulations to allow officers to use Naloxone.

“I’m absolutely for it,” Falmouth Police Chief, Edward A. Dunne said. “It saves lives. It is another tool for the officers to use.”

Naloxone, which goes by the trade name of Narcan, blocks the effects of opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, codeine and methadone. Currently, EMS responders, including firefighters, are allowed to administer the easy to use and effective tool, but only a handful of police departments in Massachusetts are legally allowed to use it.

Following the increase in overdoses, Chief Dunne said he spoke with the district attorney as well as other police chiefs in the county who have spoken out strongly for a need to change the current regulations.

Next week, lieutenants, sergeants and some officers in the Falmouth department will receive training in Narcan use. The chief said that if the rules change, he would absolutely support his officers using the relief tool.

“We’ve seen it used and the effects are amazing,” he said.

Right now, he said, he cannot allow his officers to use it because of regulations issued by the state Department of Public Health. The officers currently use CPR to keep a victim of an overdose alive.

“I can’t ask my guys do something legally they aren’t covered for,” Chief Dunne said.

The Capewide effort to change the current rules and regulations, said Cape and Islands district attorney Michael O’Keefe, is in the very preliminary stages, started earlier this week. Involved in the effort are Cheryl Bartlett, Massachusetts Department of Public Health commissioner, as well as Mashpee Chief of Police Rodney C. Collins and James M. Cummings, the county sheriff. Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich) has been involved in an effort to change the current regulations, as well as David T. Viera (R-Falmouth).

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“I had a conversation with [Ms. Bartlett] asking her to fast-track a pilot so that we can have first responders trained and ready to go,” Mr. Hunt said. “Her response was that she was very interested in it. There is some confusion about the law that we’re trying to figure out.”

“There are a number of things that we have to discuss,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “We are trying to move as quickly as possible.” Mr. O’Keefe said that he did not want to speak too soon because the effort has just begun, but he said that one issue could be the funding. “Nothing is insurmountable though. I am certainly willing to put some money that is at my disposal toward it,” he said.

Mr. O’Keefe got involved in the effort after inquiries from Mashpee Police Chief Collins as well as Sheriff Cummings.

“It sounds like a no-brainer to me,” Sheriff Cummings said. “With all of these people using and abusing heroin, police are coming more and more in contact, so if there’s a tool to save a life, let’s just use it.”

The sheriff said that most of the police departments in Barnstable County have expressed interest in using Narcan. 

Currently, six police departments in the state are allowed to use Narcan by the Department of Health with a pilot program. The first responder program began in 2010, when the Quincy Police Department approached the state department.

“It’s been very good for us,” said Captain John R. Dugan with the Quincy Police Department. “It has saved over 220 lives in the last two years since the pilot program started.” The police officers in the department, he said, have no problems with it. “When we first went to it, there was some reluctance to change but once they saw how easy it was, and saw how easy it is to save lives, officers have no problem using it at all. It has been very well received in the force and the community.”

Capt. Dugan is trained to use Narcan, though he said he has never used it. The training, he said, was very simple and took less than an hour.

He said the Quincy department asked the state health department when there was an increase of heroin overdoses in the city. Today, he said, he has seen the number of overdoses in his city increase even more than in the past.

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