Clark County deputies armed for drug overdoses

Sheriff’s office trains them to use opioid antidote naloxone

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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The sheriff’s deputies passed around a little vial and spray nozzle.

One blast of naloxone from the vial, per nostril, can revive someone left unconscious by an opioid overdose, saving their life.

“You giving them Narcan and waking them up might be the change that they need,” Deputy Jon Shields said, using a brand name for the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.

Shields led a recent training for deputies on administering the drug. They are among first with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to start carrying intranasal naloxone while on patrol.

“You’ve seen it. They steal from their family, they steal from their friends, and until they get to that point, they’re not going to change,” he said. “We’re giving them a chance to change their life.”

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist: Once in the body, it blocks the body’s receptors to opioids, which includes drugs such as heroin and prescription painkillers. Patients often spring right up. In addition, it has no effect on someone not using opioids.

It’s family and friends, or other addicts, who are likely to encounter people suffering an overdose, so equipping them with naloxone means someone who can help is more likely to be nearby, said Dr. Alan Melnick, director of Clark County Public Health.

Clark County Public Health offers the drug to users and friends and families of users as part of its needle exchange and harm-reduction efforts. Local Fred Meyer pharmacies have been offering the drug and, eventually, every Walgreens in the county will as well.

Paramedics carry naloxone in case of overdose calls, Melnick said, so having deputies carry it too again means more people can help.

“I think it’s an outstanding public health move, and I really appreciate the sheriff’s office doing this,” he said. “I’m not saying they may save some lives. They will save some lives from doing this.”

In 2014, about 47,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses, 6.5 percent more than in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2000, total opioid deaths have quadrupled.

In Washington, 979 people died from drug overdoses in 2014, according to the CDC.

“It doesn’t care who you are, you could be a 17-year-old, a 14-year-old kid in high school, or a multimillion-dollar, very successful businessman,” Shields said. “It doesn’t matter how you get introduced to it.”

Forty-five percent of heroin addicts, he said, got started with a legal drug: Many got hurt and were prescribed a pain medication they couldn’t quit.

The sheriff’s office purchased the medication through a roughly $7,000 grant through the Northwest High Density Drug Trafficking Area, a national drug enforcement program, sheriff’s Cmdr. K.C. Kasberg said.

It took about a year of planning to get the medication to deputies. The sheriff’s office looked at Snohomish County’s efforts to put naloxone in the hands of law enforcement, which has yielded 18 saved lives in a few years, Kasberg said.

The sheriff’s office will respond to overdoses as it does to heart attacks. Some patrol cars carry automated emergency defibrillators, so when there’s a heart attack call, EMTs and deputies are sent, since both are equipped to help.

Recent changes in state law allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone to anyone likely to be in contact with opiate addicts, and grants the same legal protection to police that EMTs get when administrating medical care.

Not every deputy will carry the drug, Kasberg said, only the ones comfortable with handling drugs.

“Then once we get it out there people will start seeing how easy it is, then I think there will be more interest in it” among deputies, he said.

Deputies will continue working through the training and receiving the kits through the next few weeks, he said, and, in the long term, will train with using the nasal naloxone as part of their regular CPR and first aid training.