Overdosing on opiates like heroin or prescription painkillers can be deadly, and some Northeast Michigan law enforcement agencies are interested in equipping officers with an antidote.
Naloxone is an effective antidote for overdoses of medicines like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and illegal drugs like heroin. The White House's 2013 National Drug Control Strategy says it's administered as an injection or nasal spray and blocks opioids having an effect by binding to the same receptors in the brain. This reverses the slowing of the respiratory system that occurs from an opioid overdose.
In Quincy, Mass., the city police department has a naloxone program, according to the strategy. In 2010 all city officers were trained to use the drug, and in February, USA Today reported the department had reversed 211 overdoses.
The potential to save lives intrigues Montmorency County Undersherrif Brian Crane, but county deputies currently don't carry naloxone. He believes the department needs more information before making a decision, and if the department opted to acquire the drug its deputies would need to be trained on its use. For now the department is monitoring the situation closely.
"Anything that could potentially save lives is going to be something we're interested in," he said. "But without having the history of this product and not knowing more about it, we wouldn't be comfortable carrying it."
Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski said he's thought about acquiring the drug for his deputies if training is available. He'd also have to consider any potential liability involved in its use.
Nevertheless, Kieliszewski is interested in anything with a life-saving potential. County residents have died after overdosing on opiates. While Naloxone might help, a major factor is calling 911 in time. Some may hesitate to do so if they're afraid of getting themselves into trouble with the law, but deputies responding to an overdose have other priorities.
"From our perspective, the last thing we're going to worry about is prosecuting somebody," he said. "Our first priority is helping someone in need of help. We'll worry about any prosecution after we're done dealing with that."
In Presque Isle County, heroin abuse isn't a hugely prevalent crime, Undersheriff Joe Brewbaker said, but that doesn't mean it's not being abused there.
"We don't have a lot of inmates in my jail because of heroin right now, but we are not naive to the idea that there is heroin in the county," he said. "We realize there is."
Naloxone could be a useful tool for Presque Isle County sheriff's deputies, Brewbaker said, and the department will look into any such tool that could improve the department's ability to protect the community against drugs. Sheriff Robert Paschke said his deputies don't carry it yet, but it's something the department could look into.
Alcona County Sheriff Douglas Atchison said he's familiar with the substance, but his deputies don't carry it. Like Paschke, he also said it's possible the department could consider the option in the future.
Michigan State Police Alpena Post First Lt. Mike Hahn said MSP troopers don't carry naloxone.
Benzie County sheriff's deputies each have a single dose, administered as a nasal spray, Sheriff Ted Schendel said. They've carried the doses since December, and used one since then.
"We had someone that was passed out, and the officers on scene thought it might be a heroin overdose," he said. "They administered it, and they did come to, but we don't know if that was (drug related) or not. As it turns out, it was just someone that was highly intoxicated."
Luckily, a dose of naloxone has no bad effects on a person if they're not under the influence of opioids, Schendel said. With its established track record, he believes equipping his department with the drug is a "no-brainer." And since it's a nasal spray, officers don't have to deal with needles to administer a dose.
Each dose costs $22 to $28 and comes with a slip of paper where the officer who administers it can log the use, Schendel said. They then turn the paper and empty vial over to any EMS personnel who respond to the incident.
The decision to carry the drug was spurred by a rash of overdose deaths in 2013, Schendel said. There were four last year, and there have been three this year. That's high for a county with a population of just under 17,500.
A family member of one overdose victim informed Schendel about naloxone, he said. After learning more from Community Mental Health, the department got a doctor to sign off on its program, and worked with the county's EMS director to get it going.
Schendel's department is the first in the state to carry it, and others are coming around to the idea, he said. He's referring more and more callers to the same people who helped him out, although at first he did get some push-back from those wondering why deputies should be helping drug addicts.
"We had to remind people, those people are sons or daughters or moms and dads," he said. "That's not for us to make that judgment. Our duty is to help them."
While naloxone is getting renewed attention in light of recent, high-profile overdose deaths, it's not a new drug by any means. Alpena firefighter and paramedic Jim Stachlewitz said it's something the department has carried for as long as he's been a paramedic with the department. It's part of the department's ambulance drug boxes.
A process to make the drug was patented in 1963 by Sankyo, and a presentation on the FDA's website notes naloxone's effects were first observed in 1911.