Umatilla County Sheriff’s deputies will soon start carrying anti-overdose drugs.
The medication naloxone saves lives by reversing overdoses of prescription painkillers, heroin and the synthetic painkiller fentanyl. The law enforcement agency will receive 60 doses Friday from the Umatilla County Health Department to use over the next two years.
Eastern Oregon Prevention Drug Coordinator Mike Stensrud, of Umatilla County Public Health, will train officers on the use of naloxone (with the brand name of Narcan). Funding from Purdue Pharma to the National Sheriff’s Association helped bring the kits to Umatilla County and various other law enforcement agencies across the county at no cost to taxpayers.
Local ambulance crews already carry the drug. Last year, emergency medical service workers administered naloxone 177 times in Umatilla County. But, the earlier the drug is administered the better chance the person will recover.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,249 people died in opioid-related deaths in 2016. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Oregon ranks sixth nationally for non-medical use of prescription pain relievers like Percocet and OxyContin.
One reason to use naloxone is a recent shift away from spot testing drugs found during traffic stops so that officers won’t be exposed to the potent synthetic painkiller fentanyl which comes in both pill and powder form. A small amount of the drug, which is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine, can trigger an overdose. An Ohio law enforcement officer overdosed in May after he got deadly fentanyl powder on his uniform.
“It’s a big concern,” Stensrud said. “Simply touching or inhaling extraordinarily small quantities of fentanyl can cause an overdose. By equipping our sheriff’s officers with this life saving drug, they can respond to emergencies with less apprehension and risk of a contact overdose.”
The officers would have the ability to respond before the arrival of ambulance crews.
One beauty of nasally administered naloxone is its lack of side effects.
“There are no adverse effects,” he said. “Within three-to-five minutes, if there is no improvement, you can administer another dose.”
He said the drug even works with police drug dogs that inhale drugs in powder form.
Besides administering naloxone, officers will provide overdose data to a nationwide network using an application they pull up in on phones or computers.
“Officers have enough to do without additional paperwork,” Stensrud said. “They can pull up the program on their patrol phone in their cruisers. This program allows us to track overdose events in real time.”
Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan praised the National Sheriffs’ Association and Purdue Pharma for giving officers another tool to fight heroin and opioid abuse.
“We are grateful for the national support,” Rowan said. “Solving this crisis will take the collective effort of our entire community.”
Jonathan Thompson, CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association, said the program has saved 120 lives since it was launched at the end of 2015.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.