The East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) has begun issuing new Narcan devices to officers to treat opioid overdose emergencies. These are devices used to help a person who is experiencing an opioid overdose buy a few of minutes time to keep breathing until paramedics arrive on the scene.
Narcan is the commercial name for naloxone hydrochloride. Naloxone blocks the receptors in a person’s brain from being overloaded with an opioid. Naloxone binds to the brain’s opioid receptors and blocks the opioid from attaching. This keeps the person experiencing an overdose breathing for a period of time until advanced medical care can be on the scene.
“The first few months of 2017, we had six opioid overdose incidents with only one death,” now-Deputy Chief Steve Gonzales said in an interview with ELi. “When you compare those numbers to the numbers that the city of Lansing has seen, [and with some of what] other areas in the county have seen, we pale in comparison.”
Police officers have been responding to overdose incidents at an increased rate due to the rising opioid epidemic. In taking a look at past years’ numbers, ELPD expects opioid overdoses to increase in the coming months and years.
“If we can get to a person within that first four minutes of an overdose, and administer a dose [of naloxone], get them breathing again, their outcome is just that much better,” Gonzales said.
The way the injector works is this: The person administering the dose will pull the cap off, and the device will play a voice with instructions. The ideal place to administer the dose is right over a muscle, like the thigh. The device is an auto-injector, so you place it where you want to use it and push in, the needle extends from the injector and administers the dose.
Administration of the dose takes five seconds. The device counts down for you. The needle then automatically retracts back in. Thanks to the design, a police officer or anyone else using the device is not exposed to the sharp needle.
“We chose the auto-injector simply because it's akin to the way an AED [automated external defibrillator] works, where it kind of talks you through the process,” Gonzales said. “In a situation where our officers respond to these a lot, they can tend to be overwhelmed with whatever is going on in the scene, so it’s just one more fail-safe there.”
East Lansing is not the first police department to issue these devices to their officers. Due to the rising opioid epidemic, there has been a trend nationally towards law enforcement officers carrying these devices, especially in the last 12-18 months.
Gonzalez explains, “If we administered this by accident,” for example, to someone with an alcohol overdose misread as an opioid overdose, “it’s not going to cause them any harm if we’re wrong. The body metabolizes naloxone and gets rid of it. The worse side effect that someone might have is a slight headache.”
Due to minimal risks, the State of Michigan has written into law something like a blanket prescription for the people of Michigan. Noloxone is now accessible over-the-counter at participating pharmacies.
“We participate in a Tri-County consortium that deals with opioid addiction and opioid overdoses,” Gonzales said. “Law enforcement is involved, but it is also a group [that includes] professionals who come from the medical field, county health department and more.”
Officers go through a mandatory training before they can be issued the naloxone auto-injectors. By the time ELPD is done with the training process, three-quarters of the department will be trained.
The training has been conducted by a non-profit group called Capital Area Project BOX. The group’s aim is to reduce the number of overdoses in our area. The organization has partnered with Ingham County Health Department to deliver overdose treatment training for free. ELPD’s first set of auto-injectors was given to them for free.
“We developed a basic policy and procedure for guidelines on how to use the naloxone, when to use it, and how to document the use of it as well,” Gonzales tells ELi. The policy was reviewed and authorized by both the Chief of Police and the City Manager.
“It is kind of a change for law enforcement to be carrying some type of a medication, if you will,” Gonzales said. “Generally police officers don’t provide first aid past basic first aid skills, so this was something that we took a hard look at.”
“We’re finally to a point where we felt comfortable implementing it here both based on the need that we see for it and also the research and our discussion with other agencies as far as how it has worked for them.”
Implementation of the program has been budget-neutral according to the ELPD, meaning it has not cost the City any money. Additional injectors will also not cost the Department or the City any additional funds because the plan is to obtain grants to support the program.
Every officer will be carrying at least two doses of naloxone in the coming months, and officers will have doses available in the East Lansing jail in case someone experiences an overdose there.
“While we don’t think that this is going to take the place of having the person have to go to the hospital, what we’re looking for is a stop-gap,” Gonzales said. “In the long run we certainly hope to be able to save a life or two with these.”
Gadir Mohamed was a participant in ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program.