Amid opioid crisis, more law enforcement carrying Narcan in South Lake Tahoe
July 9, 2018
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Last month deputies with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office started carrying Narcan, a lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of opioids in the case of an overdose. The move puts Douglas on a growing list of regional law enforcement agencies carrying the opioid blocker — further proof of the ongoing epidemic that has devastated large swaths of the U.S.
Douglas applied to receive hundreds of doses of the drug from the Nevada Attorney General's Office in January 2018. After receiving training on how to administer Narcan, which is a nasal spray, each officer will be equipped with two doses of the drug, according to Capt. Dan Coverley, who was elected Douglas County sheriff in June.
Opioid blockers, which contain the drug naloxone, can come as injections and nasal sprays. The drug binds to the brain's opioid receptors and rapidly reverses the effects of an overdose. Though the Food and Drug Administration approved it in 1971, it's in more recent years that naloxone has become more widely known and used.
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has been vocal about combating the crisis, and in October 2017 launched "Nevada's Prescription for Addiction" initiative, part of which allocated $250,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase opioid blockers for law enforcement and emergency responders.
Washoe County deputies have been equipped with Narcan since November 2017, marking the launch of the county's Opioid Prevention Program, according to Bob Harmon, Washoe County Sheriff's Office public information officer. The department obtained Narcan through the National Sheriff's Association (NSA).
Harmon said there were two cases where Narcan was used to revive people who had overdosed in early June. These were the first cases where deputies had administered Narcan since the start of the program.
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There were short of 400 opioid-related deaths recorded in Nevada in 2016, and there were nearly as many opioid prescriptions issued as there are residents in the state, according to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Between 8 and 12 percent of people prescribed opioids will develop an opioid abuse disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Though the epidemic has been more devastating on the East Coast and in the Midwest, the California Legislature is introducing measures to combat it. In April, lawmakers passed 10 bills to regulate the distribution of prescription opioids, which included limiting the dosage of opioids for minors and implementing measures to crack down on prescription fraud, the Associated Press reported.
In February, Sacramento County law enforcement was issued nearly 3,000 doses of Narcan after receiving a grant from the California Department of Public Health.
El Dorado and Placer Counties are in the process of equipping deputies with naloxone. El Dorado is planning to train and equip deputies with Narcan, which is pending grant approval, according to Sgt. Anthony Prencipe, public information officer for the sheriff's office.
Placer County deputies were trained to administer naloxone in April and are in the final stages of approval. A grant was secured with the California Department of Public Health following initiatives led by the county Health and Human Services Department.
"This increased access to naloxone will help local law enforcement give people a second chance at life," Placer County Health Officer Dr. Rob Oldham stated in a press release. "But we still need the community to exercise caution around both prescription and illicit opioids."
Douglas County deputies also will be given Personal Protection Equipment, or a PPE, to protect themselves in the case of accidental opioid exposure.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It has been a key contributor in the increase in opioid-related deaths because it is often laced in heroin. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, just two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal.
Last year in Pittsburgh, 18 SWAT officers were hospitalized after a drug raid resulted in what was thought to be fentanyl-induced illness. Similar stories of officers being exposed during home searches or traffic stops have flooded the media since the rise of fentanyl in street drugs.
Coverley said there have been no cases of fentanyl exposure in Douglas County and Harmon confirmed there haven't been incidents in Reno, but both said it's a threat their departments plan to be prepared for.
Maggie Mayer is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister paper of The Union based in South Lake Tahoe. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.