ith a quick and simple squirt of naloxone or Narcan into the nostrils of a person overdosing on certain types of drugs, local police officers have a better chance of saving that person’s life.

Thanks to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, naloxone kits will be available to officers with Seymour and Brownstown police departments and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department to use when responding to suspected drug overdoses.

About 40 officers spent Tuesday morning in a classroom at the Jackson County Learning Center learning more about how, when and why to use Narcan. They even got to practice giving the medication to Schneck’s patient simulation models.

The training was provided by Schneck and led by Dr. Joan Duwve, chief medical consultant, and Billy Brewer, director of planning and response operations, from the Indiana State Department of Health.

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The Seymour hospital is funding the program to supply each police vehicle with a stock of the medication, which works to reverse the effects of an overdose of opioids, such as heroin, morphine, Oxycodone and others.

“Opioid use and overdose deaths are really an epidemic,” Duwve said. “I know that you have seen an increased number of opioid overdoses and overdose deaths in Jackson County.”

The same can be said for the state, with Indiana ranking 16th nationally, reporting 1,049 overdose deaths in 2013.

“This epidemic is growing at an alarming rate,” Duwve said.

She blames a big part of the trend on the number of prescriptions for opioids being written by doctors to lessen a patient’s pain.

In 2012, Indiana doctors wrote more opioid prescriptions per person than 41 other states, making it the ninth-highest prescribing state, she said.

“We must stop the bleeding, and by bleeding I mean the prescribing,” she said. “We need to get doctors to prescribe opioids more responsibly.”

There are cases where opioids are needed, such as terminal end-of-life care, but she doesn’t agree with doctors prescribing long use of the drugs, especially to younger people who may have had a sports injury or for recovery after surgeries.

Vicki Johnson-Poynter, vice president of nursing services at Schneck, said the need for law enforcement to have naloxone with them when responding to emergency calls is evident from the prevalence of drug use in the community.

“We have every hope that that is going to get better in the future, but we know that this exists now,” she said of the medication. “It’s being used in other locations, and we wanted to model that because it definitely saves lives.”

The Naloxone kits local police will be using come with syringes and atomizers that allow the liquid medication to be administered as a fine mist into a person’s nose.

Addressing issues

They are not effective on overdoses of other drugs like cocaine, LSD, Ecstasy, sedatives and tranquilizers. However, because many overdoses involve more than one substance, with at least one typically being an opioid, the use of Narcan is recommended to slow, stop or even reverse the effects of the overdose, Duwve said.

“Naloxone is not a controlled substance. It’s not an opioid. It is not addictive. And it’s safe to use,” she said. “It reverses the effects of opioids or opiates, which include respiratory depression, sedation and low blood pressure.”

Last month, police officers in Johnson County saved two lives in a 12-hour span after they used Narcan to reverse the effects of narcotics. The Columbus Police Department also has been able to save lives by administering Narcan.

Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said he has concerns with his officers using Narcan on people, including liability issues if the medication doesn’t work.

“I’m expecting there will be a lawsuit,” he said.

But according to new state legislation, Senate Bill 227, which allows first responders to administer an overdose prevention drug without permission from the person or a family member, they cannot legally be held responsible for what happens.

Unless it’s an act of gross negligence or willful misconduct, you are immune from civil liability, Duwve said.

Abbott also doesn’t think using Narcan to reverse overdoses will change the habits of many drug users.

“I don’t agree with those who are using drugs illegally, but part of our jobs is to still protect lives,” he said.

Abbott said he can only hope that someone whose life is saved from receiving a dose of Narcan decides to change the path they are on and seek treatment for drug abuse and addiction.

“Just because we carry Narcan, it will not do away with overdose deaths,” he said. “We still have to get there in time, and someone has to recognize the overdose in time. So unless people start telling us upfront what happened and what they were doing, it’s not going to save everyone.”

‘Equal opportunity destroyer’

Duwve said there are some people who try to take their own lives by overdosing on drugs, but that’s not typical of most overdose cases.

“These drugs are being used for the feeling of euphoria they cause or because they have been prescribed by a doctor for pain,” she said.

There also is “rampant” use of opioids in high school and college students, she added.

“This is an equal opportunity destroyer,” she said. “It affects people of all income levels, rural, urban, suburban. It’s not the poor, it’s not the rich, it’s everybody.”

The use of Narcan by first responders is giving people a second and sometimes a third chance, Duwve added.

“A chance to, if they are addicted, to get into treatment,” she said. “If they are kids just experimenting, a chance to understand that they made a huge mistake and the risks and get on with their lives.”

Each dose of Narcan, along with the syringe, costs $30.

“We’ll be putting them in 40 cars for Seymour city police and in 19 cars for the county right now,” Johnson-Poynter said. “And we will replenish them as they are used, so it will be an ongoing project for Schneck that we believe is a great benefit to the community and our mission.”

More groups will be added soon to the list approved and trained to carry and use Narcan kits, including Crothersville and Medora police and fire departments. Jackson County Emergency Medical Services personnel already use the medications to reverse drug overdoses.

RESTORING oxygen to the brain

Johnson-Poynter said the hospital sees drug overdose cases almost every day.

“We really think it will make an impact,” she said of the naloxone kits and training for first responders. “Even if you can correct an overdose sooner, that’s restoring oxygen to the brain, which could prevent disabilities and brain injuries because time matters.

The body’s response to Narcan is almost instant, taking just 30 seconds to a minute to take effect.

“A dead person has never been successfully rehabilitated,” she added. “This can be the one pivotal point that a person says, ‘OK, I need help,’ and that’s what we’re hoping for. We just want to be able to do this in our community because it saves lives.”

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Carothers doesn’t have a lot of confidence that Narcan will help address the issue of drugs, overdoses and overdose deaths here.

Although officers do respond to several reports of overdoses during the year, he said it’s usually to investigate the person’s death.

“It’s rare that we get there before they are gone,” he said. “It can be a very good tool if we find people in this situation, and if we can save a life, that’s important. But my only issue is that these people are making a choice to use an illegal drug. We may be saving them from the inevitable.”

Pull Quote

“Opioid use and overdose deaths are really an epidemic. I know that you have seen an increased number of opioid overdoses and overdose deaths in Jackson County.”

Dr. Joan Duwve, Indiana State Department of Health

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.