Ocean County officials are still waiting for the state Department of Health to issue waivers to allow police officers who are also EMTs to carry the heroin antidote naloxone.
Officers were trained last month to administer the potentially life-saving anti-doping medication as a nasal spray, and Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said he would like on-duty police officers in the county’s 33 municipalities to start carrying the drug, also known under the brand name Narcan.
The move follows 112 fatal drug overdoses last year in the county, more than double 2012’s total.
Coronato has said that arming police officers and EMTs with naloxone could stem the increase in heroin overdose deaths. So far this year, Ocean County has seen 13 fatal drug overdoses, 10 of which were heroin-related, authorities said.
Threatening the program is the legal liability placed on trained medical personnel.
In what Coronato and other area officials describe as a conundrum, Narcan is available by prescription to individuals who are not first responders, but EMTs are not permitted to administer the drug while working.
This restriction extends to members of law enforcement who are also EMTs, even when they are on duty as police officers.
“I’ve been emailing the Department of Health and asking, ‘Where are my waivers?’ And I’ve asked about all the other EMTs and how the Department of Health is going to handle that,” Coronato said.
Donna Leusner, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said the agency is reviewing Coronato’s request and a waiver would apply to first responders such as police officers and EMTs.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said the administration, Attorney General’s Office and departments of Health and Human Services have been working alongside the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office to effectively equip officers with naloxone while ensuring the safety of first responders, said
“We expect to have more to say on this in the coming weeks,” Roberts said.
Surf City Councilman Peter Hartney said the situation doesn’t make sense and demands a remedy immediately.
Hartney, who has been a volunteer firefighter and EMT for more than 30 years, said the department’s failure to act is irresponsible.
“They’re stuck in the bureaucratic process. They don’t fully appreciate the gravity of the situation,” he said.
Hartney said he spoke to an aide in Christie’s office two weeks ago and was told he should expect to hear from the department soon. Hartney said he has still not been contacted.
Hartney and Surf City Police Chief William Collins said they are in full support of Coronato’s initiative but realize that 30 percent of the department holds a state EMT certification.
EMT-certified police officers who make the decision to administer the nasal naloxone will be acting outside their scope of practice as EMTs, he said. If the officers decide not to administer the drug, they will be deficient in their duty as law-enforcement officers, Hartney said.
On Thursday, Leusner wrote in an email that she could provide no additional information at this time when asked about a timeline for the department’s decision on the waiver requests.
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