A movement to arm police officers with the heroin antidote that started with a directive from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office has gained momentum and is now being pursued by other counties in the state.
One day after Gov. Chris Christie announced the launch of a pilot program in Ocean and Monmouth counties to equip police officers with the drug naloxone and acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman said he hopes that every county in the state implements the program, Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor said he is confident law enforcement agencies there will follow suit.
Also on Thursday, the state of New York announced that every state and local law enforcement officer will now carry syringes and inhalers of naloxone, also called Narcan. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow Narcan to be distributed to the public. Some of those states allow for third parties, such as a family member or friend of an intravenous drug user, to be prescribed it.
Police in Quincy, Mass., have been carrying naloxone nasal spray since 2010 and said in July 2013 that they used naloxone 179 times, reversing 170 of those overdoses — a 95 percent success rate
Taylor said for the last several months since the Narcan program rolled out in Ocean County he has been in touch with Ocean Prosecutor Joseph Coronato and plans to follow the guidelines they have set forth.
Ocean County saw 112 overdose deaths in 2013, more than double the 2012 death count of 53. So far this year, the county has seen 20 drug overdose deaths with 17 connected to heroin, said Al Della Fave cq, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
In February, Dr. Ken Lavelle an emergency room physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa., attended the Cape May County Chiefs of Police meeting to discuss the Narcan program and said it seemed like all of the chiefs were in favor of the program. Lavelle conducted the Narcan training of the nasally injected drug for police officers from all 33 municipalities in Ocean County in February.
“Narcan will be discussed again at the chief’s meeting next week, and I will ask for a vote and I think just about everybody will be onboard,” Taylor said.
“Law enforcement is in the job of saving lives, and anything we can do to save lives that’s what we should be doing,” he said
Similar to Coronato’s approach, Taylor said, he will buy the first round of Narcan for the county’s police departments and pay for any cost of training officers from forfeiture funds. So far this year, Cape May County has seen 26 overdoses, with one fatality, he said.
Acting Atlantic County Jim McClain confirmed that all county prosecutors in New Jersey are going to receive an informational presentation regarding Narcan next Tuesday. “Following that presentation, this office will provide a further release,” McClain said Thursday.
Police officers and EMTs will administer the aerosol form of naloxone, through use of a syringe-atomizer. Narcan costs $25 per dose and in the police officer’s Narcan kit are medical gloves and syringe-atomizer, bringing the total cost of a kit to $50. In Ocean County, Coronato picked up the cost of the initial Narcan kits and in the future individual towns will be responsible for purchasing the kits.
On Thursday, Barnegat Township police became the third law enforcement agency in Ocean County to begin carrying Narcan in their police vehicles while on patrol. Surf City and Seaside Heights started carrying the drug last month. Della Fave said no police officers in have administered Narcan yet and once they do they are required to file a report with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Sgt. Jason Carroll who attended a training in February with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office trained the last officers Thursday morning on how to administer the drug, said Lt. Keith Germain.
The department of 41 officers has six Narcan kits for officers and one is also kept at the high school, Germain said.
“It’s been a crazy year with heroin overdoses, but what has changed from last year to this year is we’ve gotten the public’s attention and we feel with the prosecutor’s push we have support now. Before cops knew heroin was a problem, but now everyone knows,” Germain said.
Almost one year ago, the war on the heroin epidemic was jumpstarted by Coronato when 26-year-old Stephen Janson, of Stafford Township, was found dead from a heroin overdose in his car with baggies of heroin on Starboard Avenue in Barnegat Township. Rasan McGee, 22, of Atlantic City, was charged under the strict liability for drug death statute in fatal overdose cases in connection to the Janson’s overdose death by allegedly selling him heroin in April 2013.
In a related matter Thursday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a handheld autoinjector Evzio prescription that rapidly delivers a single dose of naxolone to treat a person suffering from an opioid overdose that is designed to be given by family members or caregivers. Unlike the nasally administered naxolone that police and EMTs will administer in New Jersey, Evzio is injected into the muscle or under the skin. Once the injector is turned on, the user is given verbal instructions by the device that explains how to deliver the medication.
The antidote, made by kaléo Inc, is not a substitute for immediate medical care, as anyone who has overdosed will need additional treatment, the FDA said.
Eric Edwards of kaléo says the antidote is intended not just for heroin or prescription drug addicts, but also for people who have accidental overdoses, unexpected drug interactions or are on very high doses of the drugs. People who overdose may suffer slower breathing or heart rates or loss of consciousness.
The executives at kaléo, are still uncertain is how much the antidote will cost, but they are working with health insurers to get broad coverage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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