The odds of surviving a drug overdose, much like the odds of surviving a heart attack, depend on how quickly the victim receives treatment. But access to naloxone—which can reverse heroin and prescription drug overdoses--varies greatly across the country, even though all drug poisoning deaths have surpassed traffic crashes as the most lethal cause of preventable injury. Because police are often the first on the scene of an overdose, the Obama Administration has strongly encouraged local law enforcement agencies to train and equip their personnel with naloxone.
Yesterday, the President traveled to Camden, New Jersey, a city that’s taken steps to create economic opportunity, help police do their jobs more safely, and reduce crime in the process. Yet another area where the Camden County Police Department is taking the right steps is with its creation of an overdose prevention program. This program has reversed 68 overdoses since it started a year ago. Across New Jersey, law enforcement officers have used naloxone to respond to overdoses 888 times since 2014.
By engaging with law enforcement in naloxone administration, we are truly pursuing a 21st century approach to drug policy and community policing--one that combines public health with public safety.
Recently I met Corporal Nicholas Tackett, a police officer from Anne Arundel County in Maryland. Corporal Tackett has witnessed about 50 drug-related overdoses in his law enforcement career.
He knows the signs of overdose, the looks on their faces. Now, with naloxone, he has a tool that enables him to save lives. Corporal Tackett brought me to the locations where his use of naloxone reversed the life-threatening overdoses of two people. Naloxone works, and it is an incredibly important tool.
In October 2014, the Department of Justice released a Naloxone Toolkit for law enforcement. This toolkit is an online clearinghouse of more than 80 resources, such as sample policies and training materials designed to support law enforcement agencies in establishing a naloxone program.
In the past year, we have witnessed an exponential expansion in the number of police departments that are training and equipping their police officers with naloxone. They now number in the hundreds and they are saving lives.
The Police Department in Quincy, Massachusetts, has partnered with the State health department to train and equip police officers to resuscitate overdose victims using naloxone. The Department reports that since October 2010, officers in Quincy have administered naloxone in more than 382 overdose events, resulting in 360 successful overdose reversals.
The Vermont Department of Health has been distributing Overdose Rescue Kits with naloxone to State police as well as to individuals through community-based partners. To date, naloxone has been deployed 146 times across the State.
There is also collaboration taking place in rural and suburban communities. In Illinois, the Lake County State’s Attorney has partnered with various county agencies, including the Lake County Health Department; drug courts; police and fire departments; health, advocacy and prevention organizations; and local pharmacies to develop and implement an opioid overdose prevention plan. As of February 2015, the Lake County Health Department had trained 828 police officers and 200 sheriff’s deputies to carry and administer naloxone, and more departments have requested this training.
To build on these efforts, the President’s FY 2016 Budget directs the Department of Health and Human Services to permit the use of block grant funds for naloxone purchases. It also provides funding specifically for law enforcement to purchase naloxone.
Where you live shouldn’t determine whether or not you survive an overdose. So our goal is to get naloxone in every community where overdose deaths are prevalent. Combined with evidence-based prevention programs and access to effective treatment, this approach will save the lives of many Americans.
Michael Botticelli is Director of National Drug Control Policy.