First responders: Narcan saves lives

One of the more effective drugs used in the immediate treatment of a heroin overdose is Narcan.

Widely sold under its generic name, Naloxone, Narcan counteracts the effects of heroin and powerful painkillers and has been routinely used by ambulance crews and emergency rooms in the United States for decades to treat overdose cases, according to the Associated Press.

Many first responders in Trumbull County have been using Narcan, or Naloxone, to counteract heroin overdoses for years.

However, most local police departments still rely on paramedics to carry and administer the drug.

Now the area is seeing an increased interest among law enforcement agencies to also train police and other first responders to administer the drug.

Joe Robinson, owner of Med Star Ambulance in Warren, said all of his paramedics carry Naloxone. He said expanding its use to law enforcement can’t hurt because it’s a fast-acting drug with no harmful side effects. He said first responders have had success using the drug.

“I think it’s a sad state of the world we live in where we’ve gotten to that point, but unfortunately, because heroin is so common, so popular and easy to get, it’s a reality we face,” he said.

Ernie Cook, Trumbull County 911 director, said getting as many first responders as possible trained to administer Naloxone is a move in the right direction.

“This will save lives and that’s what we need to focus us. The chances of saving a life are that much greater when the first person or people on the scene have a drug available with them that they can use to counteract the heroin. If having it and knowing how to use it can make the difference between whether someone lives or dies then training as many people as we can to administer it is a plus,” he said.

Capt. Jeff Orr of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force and Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, said plans are under way for the sheriff’s office to become a distributor of Naloxone. Once the office acquires its permit from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the sheriff’s office can purchase the opioid antagonist and put it in the hands of those, including deputies, trained to use it.

“We’ll be developing or adopting a policy and from there determine who will be trained and who be able to administer it,” he explained.

Orr said the goal is to get as many law enforcement agencies using the drug as possible.

“Times are changing. It’s about saving lives regardless of whether a person is addicted or using drugs. First and foremost, you concentrate on saving someone’s life. Then you work on how to help them with their addiction,” Orr said.

Columbiana EMS Director Tom Farley said his department uses Narcan for suspected heroin or morphine patch overdoses, or even if their own first responders administer too much morphine on a patient.

“If we give morphine to a patient and it’s too much, we can reverse it. Thankfully, Columbiana does not use it all that often. It is a multi-use drug for us,” he said of Narcan.

When first responders find a patient unresponsive, they can administer the drug to determine if someone lost consciousness due to a narcotic, he added.

“If it is not responsive, it tells us they did not,” he said.

Narcan counteracts the side effects of opiates and, if none are present, it has no other effect on the body, he said.

“We call it the miracle drug because it almost brings it out right away,” he said.

Salem police Lt. Donn Beeson said, at this point, the department does not use Narcan, but plans are in the works to have officers trained to use the Naloxone nasal spray that’s becoming available. A recent house bill signed into law this spring gives immunity to first responders and police officers using the heroin overdose antidote.

“The benefit of administering it far outweighs the liability of being sued for doing it,” Beeson said.

Reporters from the Salem News and Lisbon Morning Journal contributed to this report.