Police officers are being armed with a new weapon to partner them on patrol. It comes in liquid form and is known as naloxone. Attorney General Eric Holder is urging law enforcement agencies to equip police officers with the drug in an effort to save the lives of possible drug addicts. The daily average of drug overdose deaths has risen to 110 with more than half caused by opiods like, heroine and prescription painkillers. If law enforcement agencies follow Holder’s advice, drug addicts may begin to see the police as saviors instead of enemies.
Opioid overdose related deaths increased drastically by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010. As a result, Holder has deemed heroine and other opioid addiction to be nothing short of a public health crisis. The Office of National Drug Control is in complete agreement with Holder. Michael Botticelli, Acting Director of the office, says they have taken aggressive action against the epidemic, believing that lives can be saved by making naloxone available to law enforcement officials across the country.
The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services has been responsible for training over 1,100 officers to administer naloxone. These new efforts have allowed police officers to save the lives of at least 10 addicts from drug overdose. According to Deputy Commissioner Michael Wood, the division offers free naloxone training as well as naloxone kits to law enforcement. “The ability to have that tool and save a life, we didn’t have it a year ago so it’s pretty amazing stuff,” says Wood.
For some, the recommendation to equip officers with the drug may not be practical. Steve McQueen, Chief of the Winooski Police department, decided against providing his officers with naloxone. McQueen’s concern is that the drug may freeze in the winter, rendering it useless in an emergency situation. The chief believes in the usefulness of Holder’s recommendation, but believes the plan would be better suited for rural areas in which emergency response times may be slow.
“We just felt that it made far greater sense to allow the rescue personnel to administer Narcan (naloxone) and carry it with them, instead of individual officers having to carry it and maintain it themselves.” Winooski’s relatively small geographical size has McQueen confident that emergency teams will respond quickly enough to be able to administer treatment to drug overdose victims. Chief Mike Shirling has chosen not to train officers or provide them with naloxone kits either. Burlington Police Department noted that troopers in rural areas have larger areas to cover and would be more likely to find use in carrying the drug.
Although these two cities may have a better handle on getting quick medical attention to victims, Vermont still deals with a steep incline in opioid addicts. Last year the state recorded 21 heroine overdoses and 50 overdose deaths caused by prescription painkillers. Vermont’s health department began distributing naloxone rescue kits to civilians and addicts, putting them in the position to be able to save a life. Since the health department started distributing kits, 46 overdose deaths have been prevented.
Thus far, the district of Columbia and 17 other states have amended their laws to allow for more access to naloxone. The amendments have saved over 10,000 lives, which indicates that police, drug addicts and their loved ones, can benefit from the new suggestions introduced by Holder. To end the law enforcement conference, Holder assured officials that by working together, they could reach the goals they wish to accomplish in coming years.
By Kamille Dawkins