Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - Updated: 3:30 PM
Last week approximately 40 local law enforcement officers and firefighters attended training that certified them to administer Naloxone/Narcan, which is a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose. Lourdes Hospital in Paducah partnered with Kentucky ASAP (Agency of Substance Abuse Policy) to reach out to 12 counties in western Kentucky and provide training through the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition as well as provide Narcan kits for those agencies. The Marshall County Health Department hosted two training sessions last week that were well attended by a variety of organizations including the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, Benton Police Department, Benton Fire Department, Kentucky State Police, Murray Police Department, Fulton County Sheriff’s Department and Fulton Police Department.
Community Health and Government Relations Specialist Nikki Coursey with Lourdes said the hospital wanted to do its part to ensure local law enforcement officers and first responders, such as firefighters, are equipped with both the knowledge and the tools to combat the heroin epidemic, should it reach this far west.
“One thing Lourdes was thinking about is that local governments don’t have the funds to provide training for their patrol men and women or for their first responders in general; often they barely have the funding to provide new tires on the vehicles or getting the uniforms they need,” she said. “The community doesn’t think heroin is here as much as it is but we pulled the data from the hospital to see the overdose cases that are coming through and even in 2016, they’re growing every year. We have had some negative responses from some of the cities in the outreach area but then we found some of the river cities and counties didn’t even know what Naloxone is or that there is a medication to bring someone out of an overdose state. There just needs to be a lot of education around this issue and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Coursey said the partnership also provided Narcan kits complete with two nasal doses of the medication and a breathing mask, which typically cost $80 each, free of charge to the agencies who requested them. She said another federal grant will provide Kentucky with approximately 5,000 kits in the spring, which she expects will be distributed among the 120 counties.
Russ Read, co-founder of Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition, led the training sessions, which educated participants regarding signs and symptoms of an overdose, how to administer the medication and after-care needs as well.
Read said House Bill 192, which his organization fought to see through, made it possible for law enforcement and first responders (outside of paramedics and EMTs as they are medically trained to do so) to administer the medication Narcan, which reverses the effects of the opioids for approximately 60-90 minutes. After that, Read said, the person must continue treatment at a hospital to ensure they don’t return to an overdose state after the initial small doses wear off.
Marshall County Sheriff Byars said his interest in participating in the training was not just a concern for the safety of the public, but also a concern for the safety of his officers. He said when HB 192 passed a few years ago he was hesitant to ask his officers to administer the medication due to liability issues and additional safety concerns his officers would face when the high was suddenly and immediately depleted. But after some research and discussions with one of his officers who is also a paramedic, combined with the availability of a nasal spray instead of an injection, he said he’s feeling much more comfortable with the idea and sees it now as a necessity.
“There have been instances when police officers didn’t know the drug was present and it became airborne and they breathed it in and it will knock you down immediately, especially if it’s cut with carfentanil, which is an elephant tranquilizer. It’s 800 times stronger than fentanyl and fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin,” he said. “They’re cutting it with these two drugs now and to me, that’s a safety issue for the officer as much as for the public.”
According to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin.
Byars said heroin does come in a powder form so many wouldn’t consider it becoming airborne as being an issue. But he said during a raid in eastern Kentucky, 10 officers of a tactical team were taken down because the fine powder was disturbed and they breathed it in. In fact, he said, the drug control office out of Frankfort (and nationwide standards) has ceased allowing officers to conduct a field test and instead requires the substance be double-bagged and sent to a lab where it’s tested in a controlled environment.
Byars said his other motivation for encouraging participation in the training is the cost. But because the partnership between Lourdes and KY ASAP provided free training as well as a number of free Narcan kits (which cost $80 per kit), that alleviated budgetary concerns and eventually he would like to see at least two kits per patrol vehicle—one for someone who’s in an overdose state and one for the officer who is accidentally exposed.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the game just like we did when meth started come in. Have we done away with it completely? No. But we were far enough ahead of the game that we weren’t having the problems they were having out west as it came this way,” he said. “Congressman [Ed] Whitfield put a ton of money toward being able to combat meth, which helped. I’m hoping Congress will get involved with this too because it has reached epidemic proportions with some of my colleagues in northern Kentucky reporting their officers seeing as many as six and seven overdoses a week. We need to be able to prepare and protect our citizens as well as our officers.”
Benton Police Chief Tracy Watwood and Calvert City Police Chief David Elliott said they also are in the process of working with Coursey to get the Narcan kits for their officers, as well as ensure all of their officers are trained to administer the medication.
Elliott and Watwood both said their colleagues in northern and eastern Kentucky are facing opioid overdoses at the very least on a weekly basis, but often more than once per officer. They said in their many years of law enforcement, the drugs that trend in eastern Kentucky and then hit central Kentucky, typically it’s not long before it reaches western Kentucky.
Watwood said, “I think the Narcan kits are an important and valuable tool and if it can save somebody’s life, it’s well worth the training and the cost, if need be, not just for the safety of the public but also for the safety of our officers who might be exposed to the drug while trying to save someone else’s life.”