Seymour police officers will continue to carry and use naloxone to save the lives of people who have overdosed on heroin, painkillers and other opioids for now.
But there is concern from city officials the free supply of the medication eventually will come to an end. Some feel it’s not helping the community’s opioid epidemic and in some cases is actually making it worse.
Many believe naloxone or Narcan should not be available free when medications like EpiPens for allergic reactions and insulin injections for people with diabetes cost.
Police Chief Bill Abbott said officers are responding to more overdose calls in the city than ever before and are having to administer multiple doses of the medication to reverse the opioid’s effects.
Last year, the department used 28 doses of naloxone on 23 people. So far this year, it’s up to more than 70 doses on 29 people, he said. Nine people have died of overdoses in Jackson County so far this year, according to Coroner Mike Bobb. In 2016, 13 people died of overdoses, and it was 14 the year before.
Although the city has yet to invest any money to purchase naloxone, Abbott said there will come a day when it likely will have to.
Indiana’s existing supply of free naloxone is being distributed by Overdose Lifeline Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 by Justin Phillips to help and support individuals, families and communities affected by addiction.
Phillips’ son, Aaron Sims, died of a heroin overdose. She pushed legislators to adopt Aaron’s Law, which provides increased access to naloxone for first responders, parents and communities.
She recently visited Seymour during an HIV/hepatitis C testing event to provide naloxone training and distribute the free kits.
Phillips said it’s not just drug users who are overdosing.
“There are elderly patients overdosing because their metabolism changes, so their medicine acts differently in their body or they are forgetting and they take their dose again,” she said. “There’s young children getting into medications, so this isn’t just for ‘those people.’ It’s because we have an opioid epidemic. We have overprescribed, basically.”
No state taxpayer dollars have been used for naloxone up until this point, Phillips said. Funding for Aaron’s Law comes from a settlement from a lawsuit filed by former Indiana attorney general Greg Zoeller against pharmaceutical companies over off-label and deceptive marketing. That revenue source, however, was not meant to last forever.
“We are supposed to be able to go through Oct. 1 with this current funding,” Phillips said. “But I don’t believe we’ll get to Oct. 1 because we are running through so many doses.”
Abbott said he has requested more money in the police department’s budget next year for medical purposes anticipating the end of free naloxone distribution.
“Commercially, you can buy it from CVS Pharmacy for about $75,” he said. “Government and hospital medical supplies are usually about half that cost.”
But once the free supply ends, the city will either have to pay for the naloxone or watch a greater number of people die from drug overdoses, Abbott said.
Currently, there are more than 260 agencies in Indiana that have requested naloxone from Overdose Lifeline. The organization has distributed more than 12,000 free naloxone overdose kits with a 92 percent rate of saving lives, Phillips said.
Jackie Crane of Seymour is a public health nurse in Scott County and works closely with Phillips. Crane said she has given out 20 kits to people in Seymour.
First responders in Jackson County first started using naloxone in 2015. It was provided by Schneck Medical Center in Seymour.
One lawmaker in Middletown, Ohio, has proposed a so-called “three strike” rule for people who repeatedly overdose, meaning after the third time, emergency medical services workers will not respond to resuscitate the person.
“Last year, they had 51 deaths from overdose and about $12,000 in Narcan spent,” Seymour City Councilman Shawn Malone said of Middletown. “This year, they’re at 57 deaths six months into the year and $30,000 spent on Narcan, and now, they’re trying to figure out how they can eliminate this cost.”
Malone’s wife is from the southern Ohio area.
“So we started paying attention to what’s going on,” he said. “The coroner had to bring in a refrigerated truck to put these bodies in, and it has only gotten worse.”
Malone said he doesn’t want to see the city get to the point where first responders are not doing everything they can to save someone.
“I think that’s very drastic,” he said.
But he does feel the city needs to be able to do more when it comes to dealing with overdoses.
“I would like to look at something that says we have the ability to make some kind of charges stick, to do something, because by not getting these people into the jail, into the drug court, we’re not doing them any good,” he said.
Malone said using naloxone isn’t actually saving lives.
“They are getting high again the next day, maybe even an hour later,” Malone said.
Currently, laws do not allow a person who has overdosed to be arrested unless drugs or paraphernalia are found on the person or at the scene, Abbott said.
“We are not able to take anyone to jail just because we use Narcan on them,” Malone said.
Of the 29 people who have been administered naloxone this year by police, 13 to 15 of them have been arrested due to evidence at the scene, possession of the drug or possession of paraphernalia, Abbott said.
Police can track how many times they respond to an address and have to use naloxone, but there are different people in those houses all of the time, he added.
“We get them brought into town and dropped off because we have Narcan,” he said.
But Abbott doesn’t believe forcing people to “pay back” the city for a lifesaving service is a good idea, either.
“Nobody is going to get help until they’re dead or in jail,” he said. “I don’t think penalizing them for overdosing is a business the city wants to get into.”
Phillips said drug addiction is not a choice, it’s a “chronic disease” and should be treated that way.
“I don’t think anyone can understand if you yourself don’t have an addiction to opioids, that you’re not using because it’s fun,” she said. “It’s a change in the brain structure.”
A better way to address the problem, she said, is through peer recovery coaches, who are former addicts who have been trained to help people navigate through recovery and police-assisted recovery where police can automatically bring overdose patients to a treatment facility.
“But we don’t have a lot of treatment and recovery in Indiana,” she said.
Crane’s son, Taylor Newkirk of Seymour, is currently living in a halfway house in Indianapolis as part of his recovery from a heroin addiction.
“The recovery community is what makes a difference,” Newkirk said. “Everyone wants the same thing and has experienced the same thing, and we support each other.”
Since last year, Abbott said officers have made close to 60 arrests for dealing drugs and up to 80 total drug arrests in the city. Those numbers would be higher, he said, if each arrest didn’t require three separate and documented undercover buys.
“We’ll charge them with three, but they’ll never be convicted of three,” he said.
Malone said to make a difference in the city’s opioid crisis, the city needs to focus its efforts on helping addicts recover from their drug addiction instead of just arresting their suppliers.
“If you arrest 100 drug dealers, there’s still going to be 100 drug dealers out there with more heroin tomorrow,” he said. “We have to look at the addicts and try to be helpful to them. I’m just trying to think outside the box.”
Abbott said there’s not enough drug addiction treatment options available in Seymour.
“I’m not against any ideas, but we as a community have to change,” he said.
By arresting them and getting them into the “system,” Malone said there is a better chance of getting them some help.
“Then they have probation and have to meet the drug requirements, and there’s actually somebody trying to keep them in check, but we have to get them in there,” he said. “I just encourage everyone to read and think about what we can do. I think we’re going to have a bigger epidemic problem before it gets better.”
Naloxone overdose reversal kits are available to the public for free by contacting the Jackson County Health Department at 812-522-6474 or Overdose Lifeline Inc. at 844-554-3354.
For information or resources, visit overdose-lifeline.org.
For a list of treatment centers, visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov.