OCEAN TOWNSHIP — Police departments in Ocean County now are among just a handful of law enforcement agencies in the United States able to administer the heroin antidote Naloxone.
Officers from 15 of the county’s 33 law enforcement agencies received hands-on training Wednesday morning on how to administer the nasal-spray drug, also known as Narcan, during an exercise at the Ocean County Fire and EMS Training Center. Representatives from other departments will be trained Friday.
“We want to do the right thing here. You’re my ambassadors and you’re going to go back to your police departments and tell them what happened here,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato told the roomful of police officers.
Stafford Township K-9 Officer Robert Conforti will return to his department and, with the help of Officers Russell Griffin and Allen Jillson, train the rest of the force to administer Narcan.
Conforti took his place at a table in the classroom Wednesday morning and carefully handled the Narcan syringe as he went through the steps to administer the drug.
Conforti gave a short push on the end of the syringe and sprayed the Naloxone into the air.
“This is definitely going to help with the number of overdoses we’re experiencing,” he said.
“Whether it’s regular Joe Citizen or an addict, we have to try to save a life,” he said.
Late last year, Coronato urged county police departments to implement the carrying of the heroin antidote to assist in controlling the increasing number of heroin overdose deaths. The county saw 112 overdose deaths last year, up from 53 in 2012. To date, there have been 13 fatal drug overdoses, with 10 heroin-related, in 2014, said Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Al Della Fave.
Coronato said the Prosecutor’s Office would pay for the first round of the Naloxone inhalant for county police departments from drug forfeiture money. Officers will be equipped with Nasal Narcan Kits for their police cars at $25 per dose. Officers will begin carrying the antidote once training is complete and they are certified. Departments also will implement a procedure policy for using the drug, Coronato said.
EMTs and police officers who also are EMTs will not be permitted to administer Narcan until waivers are issued, which are expected soon, Coronato said.
“In the event of an overdose, in this day and age there are going to be four iPhone cameras recording you and we just cannot do anything, we have to act,” said Dr. Ken Lavelle, of Emergency Training and Consulting and an emergency room physician at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, who led the training Wednesday morning.
Step by step, Lavelle walked the officers through the process of responding to a drug overdose and administering Narcan. When preparing to use the drug, officers should perform a patient assessment, determine unresponsiveness, absence of breathing and/or pulse, Lavelle said.
If you can’t feel a pulse, don’t use Narcan on a patient. And if the airway is blocked with blood, vomit or other fluids, it must be cleared, Lavelle told the officers.
Sometimes an overdose victim who experiences a reversal after receiving Narcan can come out of the high angry, violent or vomiting, Lavelle said.
Narcan does not reverse brain and heart damage from a drug overdose, Lavelle added.
The doctor reminded the group that an overdose victim cannot get into a drug rehab facility if they’re dead. He likened it to writing a prescription for every officer in the room.
“There are officers and people who will say, ‘Why are we doing this?’ But we have seen that law enforcement officers are showing up on scenes first and responding first,” said Lavelle, who serves as a medical director for five EMS agencies in Ocean County.
Lavelle said Narcan already is in use in three locations, including Lorain County, Ohio, where their first overdose reversal with the drug took place on Oct. 31, 2013. In Quincy, Mass., there have been 188 successful overdose reversals since 2010, he said, and in Suffolk County, N.Y., 108 there have been reversals over the past year.
Coronato pointed to New Jersey’s Opioid Antidote and Overdose Protection Act signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in May that provides for broad immunity to the prescriber and the “patient.”
“There is nothing in the law that specifically states police can give the drug, but nothing that says they can’t do it at all,” Lavelle said.
The law provides civil, criminal and professional immunity for health care professionals involved in prescribing, dispensing or administering Naloxone or any similarly acting, FDA-approved drug for the treatment of an opioid overdose, according to an advisory from the Administrative Office of the Courts Office of Professional and Governmental Services.
Barnegat Township police Sgt. Jason Carroll attended the training Wednesday and returned to his department eager to begin the training, said Lt. Keith Germain.
Germain said the response to carrying Narcan has been positive and he credits that to having a younger department that is more progressive-minded.
The majority of the officers in the department have responded to drug overdoses multiple times, and sometimes for the same victim.
“There’s nothing worse than being a cop, standing in a room and having everyone looking at you and not being able to fix the problem. And this can allow us to fix the problem,” Germain said.
Little Egg Harbor Township police Chief Richard Buzby said patrolmen Joel Mahr and Edward McNally will attend the second Narcan training session Friday. Buzby said within the department there has been some residual concern and resistance to officers carrying Narcan.
“This was why I wanted Joel to have the experience of being there because he is the union president. The best way to resolve an issue is to face it. I think what is lacking in the law-enforcement community is communication. Joel is willing to keep an open mind and he will have exposure to Dr. Lavelle, who is the real deal,” Buzby said.
When administering Narcan there is a risk that officers and medical personnel have to face from a very practical standpoint, Lavelle said. The effects of heroin can last between four and six hours. It is possible for an overdose victim to be helped by Narcan, with effects that last from 30 to 90 minutes, and then return to an unconscious state once the antidote wears off, Lavelle said.
“But if you don’t do anything and you stand and watch, the risk is going to be greater,” he said.
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