The Orange County Sherriff’s Office in Florida announced it’s equipping officers with the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The office distributed 25 doses to deputies at a press conference July 21.
Orange County law enforcement joined the University of Central Florida Police Department, the Orlando Police Department, the Orlando Fire Department and Orange County Fire Rescue by equipping first responders with the drug.
“Last year we had 85 heroin deaths,” Lt. Parks Duncan of the sheriff’s office said at the press conference. “So far this year, we’ve had 85 deaths due to a combination of heroin and or fentanyl, which is also an opiate.”
Naloxone nasal spray can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in a matter of seconds. A person who is unconscious and barely breathing can regain consciousness and speak to first responders within minutes of receiving the drug.
“Our deputy sheriffs will utilize this to rescue individuals who are in the throes of an overdose,” Orange County Sherriff Jerry Demings said at the press conference. “The medical research has indicated we only have an average of four minutes to get to a person who has overdosed in order to save their lives.”
OPD officers received the drug June 15 and have used it at least once. In 2015, OFD medics administered more than 400 doses of naloxone, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The Orange County Heroin Task Force, comprising law enforcement, public health experts and community leaders, began working together last year. It recommended first responders be equipped with the life-saving drug.
A few hours south of Orlando, Delray Beach experienced a record 66 heroin overdoses in July. The previous record of 64 was set in March, the same month the Delray Beach Police Department equipped officers with naloxone, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Delray Beach is called the recovery capital of America because of the number of people who travel there to receive addiction treatment. Local law enforcement officials believe drug dealers are preying on the vulnerable population.
“We are the epicenter because we have so many people in recovery,” Delray Beach Police Sgt. Paul Weber told the Sun Sentinel. “The majority of the overdoses are people who live in some kind of sober living home. They are peaking now because of the strength of drugs on the street.”
From July 24 to July 29, more than a dozen people experienced drug overdoses in Delray Beach, and three died. Many of the overdoses were caused by a combination of heroin and fentanyl. Palm Beach County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Bell told the Sun Sentinel that dealers lace heroin with fentanyl, a prescription drug about 50 times as potent as heroin, to increase their drug supply.
“I’m not sure that drug users realize that they’re really taking a big chance if they’re scoring heroin,” Bell said. “Because oftentimes it’s mixed or entirely fentanyl, so it’s much more dangerous than I believe it was in the past.”
To help combat the rising number of opioid overdoses across the state of Florida, state lawmakers passed a law allowing pharmacies to sell the drug without a prescription.
Naloxone can save the life of someone experiencing an opioid overdose, and it causes no harm to those who aren’t overdosing.
Pharmacists teach patients and caregivers how to use the drug and how to identify an overdose. They also emphasize that caregivers should call 911 as soon as possible after administering the drug.
Naloxone’s effects wear off after about 30 minutes, and it’s possible for patients who consumed highly potent or long-lasting opioids to have adverse reactions after the drug wears off.
The average price of naloxone is $75, and many insurance plans cover the cost of the drug.
Communities across the country are equipping first responders with naloxone. Expanded access to the drug was a key component of President Obama’s plan to combat opioid addiction, and funding to expand access was included in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act passed in July.
In cities like Seattle, police departments, public health officials and community organizations are working together. The University of Washington, the Seattle Police Department and the Marah Project — a nonprofit dedicated to helping police raise funds to equip officers with naloxone — began an initiative to equip 60 bike cops with the drug.
Since March, Seattle police officers have administered the drug 11 times. The department is working with UW to collect data to study the effectiveness of giving the drug to officers. It’s the first attempt at studying the impact of equipping officers with naloxone.