Delco backs police having heroin-overdose antidote

James P. McCans, paramedic director
James P. McCans, paramedic director (of Haverford Twp., holds a dose of the nasal spray naloxone, which rescuers use to reverse overdoses.)
Posted: March 08, 2014

Citing a dramatic increase in heroin-related deaths, Delaware County officials announced Thursday they are pushing for legislation to allow police officers to carry a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.

They said they also are exploring the possibility of a pilot program with the Pennsylvania Department of Health that would equip police, often the first to arrive at the scene, with naloxone nasal spray, more commonly known as Narcan.

They said 52 heroin-related deaths were reported in the county in each of the last two years, with 12 so far in 2014. By contrast, 19 deaths were reported in 2007.

"We are ready to train the officers, put it in patrol cars, and start saving lives," said District Attorney Jack Whelan. In Pennsylvania, only paramedics are allowed to administer the lifesaving drug, he said.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks) has proposed a bill that would allow emergency medical technicians and police to carry the drug and administer naloxone using a nasal applicator.

Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan said he also supports the bill.

Already, 17 states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, allow police to administer naloxone. In 10 of those states, naloxone can be prescribed to family or friends of an intravenous drug user.

Naloxone can quickly reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, which include difficulty breathing, sleepiness, and life-threatening low blood pressure.

The drug works by blocking the effects of morphine, oxycodone, methadone or heroin on the central nervous system, according to the National Institute of Health.

Pennsylvania has the 14th highest drug-overdose mortality rate in the country, according to the District Attorney's Office.

The cost for one dose of naloxone would be about $25, said Whelan. Should Delaware County get the go-ahead to start a pilot program, Whelan expects to finance it through grants, county funds and money from the drug Asset Forfeiture Program.

James McCans, paramedic director with Haverford Township, said in 2013 his department responded to about 20 overdose incidents in which naloxone was administered.

"We are seeing a very young patient," McCans said. Heroin is easy to get, very pure, and cheaper than marijuana. He said officials are seeing overdoses across the board, including in affluent families.

Rep. Joseph Hackett (R., Delaware), a former police officer, said he has seen the effects of Narcan firsthand when patients undergoing CPR would "jump up" after receiving an injectable form of the drug.

"Let's not let Pennsylvania be the last to do something," he said about the push to get the legislation passed.

610-313-8111 @MariSchaefer

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