Since the early 1990s, paramedics in Jackson County have had access to a life-saving medicine that can reverse the effects of a person experiencing an overdose.
Called Naloxone, or Narcan in its generic form, it’s an injection to help stop opioid overdoses including those from heroin, OxyContin and Vicodin. The treatment has been available on each paramedic truck in the Jackson County Emergency Medical Services fleet for nearly two dozen years.
A heroin overdose, in particular, can cause a person to stop breathing, so it’s used immediately when emergency personnel arrive, said Dennis Brasher, executive director of Jackson County Emergency Medical Services.
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“It has virtually no side effects, so for any suspected drug overdose they are going to use Narcan,” Brasher said. “It reverses the overdose pretty quickly.”
Now, with a reported rise in drug-related deaths across Indiana and the country, police officers in cities like Indianapolis and Columbus also are starting to carry Narcan. According to the Center for Disease Control, overdoses rose 62 percent from 2010 to 2012 in the Midwest and heroin has become more available in rural areas in recent years.
In 2012, 120 people died every day as a result of a drug overdose, and it was the leading cause of death that year.
Jackson County law enforcement officials reported the idea of having officers carry Narcan has been tossed around, and they aren’t interested at this time.
“I don’t know where will l go with it,” Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said. “It’s one of those things that’s better for the medical professionals than police.”
Jackson County Sheriff Michael Carothers said his department won’t be carrying Narcan any time soon, but he’s not opposed to the possibility in the future if a suitable program to administer the medicine is proposed.
Just this month, Columbus police officers were trained to administer Narcan in a nasal spray form to overdose victims. In total, 63 Columbus patrol officers will carry two sets of the medication. Each set costs less than $20.
Carothers said his issue with having officers carry Narcan involves funding and finding the right training program.
He also said it raises the question of how the kits would be maintained and which specific officers would carry them. That problem came up when defibrillators were purchased through a grant and decisions about who would take the responsibility to carry them on each shift had to be made.
“What if an officer can’t get there in time if he’s in Crothersville, and he needs to get to Freetown?” he said.
There’s also the personal liability for the department.
“If a person would (overdose) on heroin, and we give it to them and they still die, then we could have a lawsuit from the family,” he said.
Despite their decision to not carry the Narcan, Carothers said heroin has become an increasing problem in Jackson County in the past few years.
Carothers said police have worked extensively since the 1990s to rid the county of the local methamphetamine problem. That in turn has pushed some drug users to opt for something different: Heroin.
“It’s actually becoming more prevalent because of the difficulty in getting meth,” he said.
Carothers said the increased usage of heroin also depends on the preference of the drug user.
“Each drug has a different high, so it depends on what they’re trying to do or get,” he said.
Abbott also said the problem has become worse. But he said for police officers, it might be difficult to know if a person is overdosing on drugs or having a medical issue.
He also said other drug-users who are at the scene most likely won’t admit what’s going on, which would make it difficult for an officer to decide if he or she should use Narcan.
“They won’t say what the problem is or tell what they are using,” Abbott said.
Brasher said he also doesn’t see a reason for police to carry it at this time since both law enforcement and paramedics usually arrive on scene about the same time.
He also said inventory upkeep can become expensive since it has to be replaced regularly because it expires.
“If a person would (overdose) on heroin and we give it to them and they still die then we could have a law suit from the family,” Sheriff Michael Carothers said.