Waterford police begin carrying Narcan to treat drug overdoses
Waterford — Police Chief Brett Mahoney believes that one of the basic principles of policing is safety for all — and that includes those who struggle with addiction.
Mahoney said last week that all of his 47 officers have been trained to administer naloxone, also known as Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses. Officers started carrying the life-saving drug in their cruisers Monday.
Mahoney said his department is joining the fight to combat opioid abuse, which often manifests itself through heroin abuse.
"When people overdose, a lot of the time, being brought back is the biggest thing that helps them turn it around," said Mahoney. "You can't get a second chance if you're dead."
Mahoney said that because Waterford has a large retail center, many people from other cities and towns come to town to steal merchandise to sustain their drug addiction.
"That's how they fund their drug habit," said Mahoney. "We deal with a lot of drug-addicted people."
Mahoney said the department modeled its program after the Groton City Police Department, whose officers were trained in June in how to administer the drug.
Each Waterford officer was trained to administer both injectable and nasal doses of Narcan. The Southeastern Regional Action Council, which helps communities address the problems of substance abuse and addiction, donated the injectable naloxone units to the department.
He said the department will work closely with the Waterford Ambulance Association, whose emergency medical technicians were trained early this year on how to give Narcan.
Between 2009 and 2014 more than 2,000 "accidental and unintentional" opioid-involved deaths occurred in 150 of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns.
The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that heroin was involved in 325 deaths, or 58 percent of all accidental deaths, in 2014.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more people are dying from heroin overdoses. Heroin-related deaths nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013 — more than 8,200 people died in 2013.
Christa Quattromani, a mental health counselor and volunteer at Shine A Light On Heroin, a local group that aims to maximize public awareness and seek solutions to the ever-growing heroin crisis, commended Waterford's efforts.
She said critics of Narcan say the drug enables addicts to continue using, but she countered that it allows them to stay alive and get the help they desperately need.
"A deceased individual cannot choose to get clean, (and) won't ever have that opportunity to find the path of recovery," Quattromani said in an e-mail. "Individuals arguing against Narcan as a harm-reduction tool claim that heroin users are aware of the risks, including the possibility of overdose, which still doesn't compel them to quit. This line of thought is based in a wholly incorrect understanding of the nature of addiction. Addiction is a brain disease, and has a logic all its own, which often is in direct opposition to rational decision making and self-preservation."
Connecticut has several laws to curb substance abuse and opioid overdoses. The Good Samaritan law passed in 2012 encourages people to call 911 to save the life of someone who has overdosed. Third-party prescription laws passed in 2014 allow practitioners to prescribe naloxone to anyone who can treat or prevent a drug overdose, such as family members or friends of suspected opioid abusers. This year the legislature passed a law meant to combat substance abuse and opioid overdoses by better monitoring how these drugs are prescribed and increasing access to naloxone.
State police carry naloxone in their cruisers, and trained emergency medical technicians can also administer the drug.
As of Monday, state police had saved 53 lives with the use of Narcan since the inception of the program in October 2014. That averages out to a life saved every week.
"State troopers and first responders see the effects of illegal narcotic use firsthand on individuals and their families," said Trooper Kelly Grant, spokeswoman for the state police. "Narcan gives state troopers the tools and training to help prevent drug overdoses and save lives."
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