LIMA — Most police officers and first responders in and around Allen County are equipped with a simple but effective tool in the ongoing fight to save lives that otherwise might be lost to drug overdoses.
With the nation in the midst of what many law enforcement and health officials have termed an opioid epidemic, a simple nasal spray is helping save lives that otherwise may have been lost due to overdoses of heroin and other opiates.
Meanwhile, one local law enforcement agency is revising departmental policies and procedures on how officers handle drug-related situations, with increased emphasis on treatment for addicts in lieu of incarceration.
Narcan a Lifesaver
Narcan is the trade name for a nasal spray device that delivers naloxone, a medication used in the treatment of an opioid emergency — such as a possible drug overdose — in which the victim is exhibiting signs of breathing problems. Narcan is used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioids until more extensive medical treatment is made available, according to the website http://narcan.com.
Police and fire and emergency personnel throughout the county are equipped with Narcan at all times.
Bruce Clayton has been a full-time member of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office since November 2012. He has been on the ground floor of departmental policy changes implemented in 2015 that require all deputies, detectives and other employees to have immediate access to Narcan.
Clayton said the overdose situations for which Narcan is effective have eerie similarities. Victims are usually unresponsive to voice commands and have a weak pulse or no apparent pulse at all. The color has drained from their faces and their lips are blue, said the veteran deputy. One dose of Narcan, sprayed into each of the victim’s nostrils, usually revives that person “in seconds,” Clayton said. They are then usually taken to an area hospital for further medical attention.
Usually, but not always.
According to Andre McConnahea, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, overdose victims on occasion will refuse further treatment once their lives have literally been saved by an infusion of Narcan. And while suspected victims of an overdose cannot be forced to seek medical attention, neither will they necessarily face legal consequences.
“When we respond to an overdose victim and apply Narcan, all that does is reverse the effect of an opioid,” McConnahea said. “Short of heroin being present, there is nothing we can arrest them for. They can be given a citation for disorderly conduct … kind of like public intoxication.”
Clayton said that, regrettably, some hard-core drug users are relying on Narcan to serve as a safety net for even greater highs.
“We’re actually hearing about Narcan parties going on out there where users push themselves to the brink of overdose, then use Narcan to bring themselves back,” the deputy said.
McConnahea said Lima Memorial Health System and St. Rita’s Medical Center have partnered with local police and first responders to cover the cost of Narcan.
Brian Latham, director of pharmacy for St. Rita’s Medical Center, said emergency squad members or law enforcement officers from Allen and surrounding counties who administer Narcan in the field and who subsequently bring a drug overdose victim to the emergency room will have their Narcan dosage replenished.
Jaime Quellhorst, director of emergency services at Lima Memorial, said through the first six months of 2017 the hospital has spent about $4,000 to replenish Narcan that has been used by first responders and police officers. At an approximate cost of $28 per dosage, the financial obligation the hospital has been willing to undertake is substantial.
McConnahea said the financial and emotional support of the two hospitals is crucial in the opioid fight.
“If Narcan was not being given to our agency, there is simply not enough money in our budget to pay for things like this,” he said. “Addicts are extremely lucky that there are people out there willing to pay for this.”
But Clayton said not all segments of the population agree. A familiar refrain from some people to the growing number of opioid overdoses is “let them die,” he said
“People are frustrated,” Clayton added. “But those people have never been standing over a person who is dying and have had the ability to stop it. You get into this job because you have empathy for people. Any law enforcement officer in this county feels the same.”
“No human being, no police officer, is going to stand there and let them die,” McConnahea added.
Clayton said Narcan is also available to the public as an over-the-counter medicine at most pharmacies without a prescription. He said residents with a family member battling addiction might consider keeping a dose of Narcan in their home. McConnahea said “everybody but the addict” should know the nasal spray is in the home.
And not just humans are affected by the drug. Clayton, a K-9 officer with the Sheriff’s Office, said Narcan would bring Inox, his canine partner, out of a drug-induced state if that situation arose.
Lima Police Department Now SAAFE
While officers with the Lima Police Department are also equipped with Narcan and will continue to use it when necessary to save lives, the department has also kicked off a new program that offers treatment in lieu of criminal charges for drug abusers who are serious about making changes in their lives.
Speaking Thursday at the monthly meeting of the regional Opioid Action Committee, Sgt. Nick Hart of the Lima Police Department said funding in the form of a state grant is being sought for the department’s new Substance Abuse Assistance For Everyone — or SAAFE — program. Even without the certainty of grant funds, the program was kicked off three weeks ago.
Hart relayed a personal insight into the need for an optional approach to law enforcement. He said he was working security for a fast-food restaurant and saw some young patrons exhibiting “obvious signs of drug addiction.”
Arresting the youths was not a legal option, “and a month later they were both dead,” Hart said. “That got us thinking what else we could do as law enforcement officers.”
That’s when SAAFE was born. Under the evolving guidelines of the program, Hart said, officers have options on how certain situations involving drug abuse may be handled. In many cases, offenders will have the option of entering a diversion program to avoid criminal charges.
Hart cited the case of a 30-year-old mother who just last week was found to be in possession of heroin. If she enters and stays in a treatment program, there will be no criminal charges against her, he said.
“Our goal is not to put them in jail,” Hart said of victims of drug abuse. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem. We want to get these people some help. Our goal is treatment, not incarceration.”
Hart said that of seven people deemed eligible for the diversion program in the first three weeks of the new program, four have taken advantage of the opportunity to turn their lives around.
Bath Township Fire Chief Joe Kitchen, also in attendance at the Opioid Action Coalition meeting, praised the SAAFE program.
“I’m really impressed with what the Lima Police Department is doing,” said Kitchen. “This is an awesome program.”
According to information from the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, deputies have been dispatched to 41 suspected heroin-related overdoses — 16 females and 25 males ranging in age from 21 to 52 — so far this year. Deputies administered 38 vials of Narcan in 27 of the 41 incidents, with the remainder of victims treated by various emergency medical service personnel.
After Narcan was administered, survival was expected in 39 of the 41 incidents, the report stated.
Nar-Anon Support Group
A program designed to serve as a support system for relatives and friends of drug addicts is held at 7 p.m. each Monday at Trinity United Methodist Church, 301 W. Market St.
Nar-Anon is described as a “12-step program designed to help relatives and friends of addicts recover from the effects of living with an addicted relative or friend.”
The national Nar-Anon program of recovery uses 12 steps and 12 traditions, according to a flyer about the program. The only requirement for participation in the program is that there is a problem of drugs or addition in a relative or friend.
Non-Anon is not affiliated with any other organization or outside entity. Meetings are strictly confidential.