Police officers and other first responders across the country are coming into contact with opioids on a daily basis. The U.S. Surgeon General has stated that the nation is in the midst of an opioid epidemic and reported that the number of overdose deaths from prescription and illicit opioids has doubled from 21,089 in 2010 to 42,249 in 2016. In particular, Washington, D.C. suffers from one of the highest rates of opioid overdose and the majority of MPD members can recall being first on scene to a heroin, crack cocaine, or fentanyl-laced K2 overdose call. Even more members have witnessed medical first responders save an overdose patient’s life by administering Narcan or some other form of Naloxone.
Naloxone is effectively a temporary opioid antidote or opioid antagonist. It works by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain to reverse and prevent the effects of other opioids. While it is recommended that the injectable form of Naloxone be administered by trained medical professionals, the nasal spray can be administered after understanding some simple instructions. In fact, Naloxone is being distributed to teachers, nurses, and staff in schools, libraries, and YMCAs.
Unfortunately, MPD does not issue Narcan or any other form of Naloxone to its members. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has identified 2,482 police agencies that issue some form of Naloxone to its officers. MPD members who have attended training on prescription drug abuse alongside neighboring DC-Maryland-Virginia police agencies reported to the Union that they were stunned to discover that MPD was the only department to not issue Naloxone. Further, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported that there are no known side effects to Naloxone in someone not experiencing an opioid overdose, i.e., there are no dangers in administering Naloxone to a patient who has been misdiagnosed as experiencing an opioid overdose.
Naloxone has already proven itself in the police arena. Officers come into contact with opioids in many forms, including heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanyl; the latter of which is manufactured as an elephant tranquilizer and a single dose as small as a grain of sand can be lethal to humans. All three are commonly used to spike batches of synthetic marijuana and other less potent drugs. In Columbus, OH, an officer experienced an opioid overdose while making a drug arrest; fortunately, his partner saved his life with the administration of nasal Naloxone. In Harford County, MD, an officer closed a nightstand drawer in an opioid user’s home and was instantly exposed to an opioid in powder form, prompting EMS personnel to administer nasal Naloxone to save his life. In that case, an EMS responder who assisted the officer on scene and another who went with the initial victim to the hospital were both treated for opioid exposure. Many other cases exist of first responders being exposed to lethal doses of opioids, sometimes by circumstance and others through intentional harm, such as when officers entered a drug house and suspects attempted to evade arrest by throwing Fentanyl into the air.
The DC Police Union believes it is essential that officers carry Naloxone. Because MPD does not provide Naloxone to its officers, they must look elsewhere. Fortunately, members have reported success with acquiring Naloxone in nasal spray form from their primary care physicians. After explaining that as DC police officers, we are exposed to opioid heavy communities and households on a regular basis, physicians have written prescriptions that have covered up to 80% of Naloxone costs, bringing the price for a 2-dose of nasal spray from $100 to $20. While in many cases, medical first responders will arrive in time to administer Naloxone to citizens and officers exposed to opioids, in those rare circumstances where they are delayed, unable to reach a dangerous scene, or run out of Naloxone, it is imperative that police be prepared to administer the antidote. Hopefully in the near future, MPD will consider Naloxone to be an essential part of the Tactical Emergency Casualty Care kit and will incorporate training on its administration.