On the front lines: Fighting the opioid addiction with Narcan

Posted 6/22/17

The naloxone kit used by the Philadelphia Police Department to treat drug overdoses. This is the final article in a series that examines adolescence and addiction. Instead of focusing on the growing …

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On the front lines: Fighting the opioid addiction with Narcan


The naloxone kit used by the Philadelphia Police Department to treat drug overdoses.

This is the final article in a series that examines adolescence and addiction. Instead of focusing on the growing problem, it attempts to make the public aware of some the programs that are attempting to address addiction and provide hope for those who struggle with addiction every day.  

by Sue Ann Rybak

 In 2015, the Philadelphia Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services administered the life-saving anti-opiate drug naloxone or Narcan 3,026 times in the city. Despite their efforts, there were more than twice as many deaths from drug overdose that year in Philadelphia as there were from homicide.

Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, commanding officer of public affairs with the Philadelphia Police Department and a former Captain of the 14th Police District, talked to the Local about the police department’s decision to train and supply officers with Narcan.

The Local asked Kinebrew, “What does the department see as its role in helping address the opioid epidemic?”

“We recognize and agree that this is something we cannot arrest our way out of,” Kinebrew said. “It's definitely multifaceted.”

He said that besides equipping officers with the life-saving drug naloxone, the department is working closely with community members, nonprofits and other city agencies, such as the Department of Health, to implement prevention and education programs such as the Heroin, Education and Dangerous Substance Understanding Program or HEADS-UP, a free program for middle school and high school students.

The presentation shows students the results of poor choices, which include using tobacco, alcohol, pills, and a variety of narcotics. Presentations often include talks from family members who have lost children to addiction. Warminster resident Cathy Messina, who formed Drug Addiction oVerdose Education, or D.A.V.E., after losing her son David at the age of 21 in February 2014, has participated in the HEADS-UP program in the past. D.A.V.E. distributes free Narcan kits to the friends and family members of those who struggle with the disease of addiction.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 people died from opiate overdoses in 2015 – a record. Opioids now kill more people than car accidents, and in 2015 the number of heroin deaths nationwide surpassed the number of deaths from gun homicides.

In 2015, there were over 6,500 emergency department visits for opioid overdoses, according to the Philadelphia Department of Health.

“Nationwide law enforcement has noticed there has been a huge increase in heroin and addiction overdoses, and that has been happening for several years now,”  said Lt. Karyn Baldini, of the Police Department’s Advanced Training Unit. “In January 2015, Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter decided to roll out naloxone (Narcan) training program in the Philadelphia Police Department.”

She said the program initially started in the East Division, which includes Kensington, and then moved on to train officers in the Northeast Police Division.

“Officers in the East Police Division utilize the most Narcan across the department and second in line would be the Northeast,” Baldini said. “Unfortunately, the heroin epidemic we are experiencing right now doesn’t know any demographic boundaries. There is not one specific demographic you can target for this. Addiction does not discriminate.”

Naloxone may be injected or sprayed into nose. It is a temporary drug that wears off in 20-90 minutes.

“The cost of one dosage of Naloxone is about $38,” she noted, “while the cost of one opioid overdose kit is valued at about $125. It's very expensive equipment. Naloxone has a two-year shelf life, so every 18-20 months the drug has to be refreshed.”

She said so far roughly 1,500 police officers are trained to administer the life-saving nasal spray.

Naloxone only works if a person has opioids in their system. It works by counteracting the life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, by allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally.

Through the ‘Good Samaritan’ provision of Act 139, people are encouraged to summon emergency medical services by calling 911 in the event they witness an overdose.

To be protected under the law, individuals who report an overdose must give their names, stay with the person who overdosed until help arrives, and should cooperate with law enforcement personnel.

According to the Network for Public Health Law, drug crimes that are covered under this law are crimes related to possession of drug paraphernalia and small amounts of drugs. Individuals in possession of a quantity of drugs that would constitute as “intent to sell” are not protected under the Good Samaritan statute. The person who overdosed is also protected under the law if the person who made the call is protected. Provider immunity Act 139 provides criminal, civil, and professional immunity from liability to any prescriber who prescribes or dispenses naloxone to an individual at risk of experiencing an overdose, or an individual who may be a potential witness to an overdose. Criminal, civil, and professional immunity is also provided to anyone who, in good faith, administers naloxone to an individual experiencing an overdose.

“The law is meant to suppress the fear of arrest in calling authorities for an overdose event by offering certain criminal and civil protections for those that do,” Baldini said.

Captain Daniel O’Connor, of the 24th Police District, said police officers will often get a variety of reactions from people after they are revived using Narcan.

“Sometimes, people become hostile because they think you ruined their high,” he said. “Usually a day or two after, we use the Narcan on them they are appreciative. They are not looking at it as if you just brought them back from the brink of death, but after someone has a chance to think it over then they are appreciative. Sometimes, people will come up to officers on the street and relay those sentiments. Other times, they will communicate those sentiments through third parties – whether it’s an advocate group or prevention group we partner with in the area.”

He said the Narcan program has really strengthened the partnerships that police have with community organizations in the area, including Philadelphia Prevention Point, a nonprofit agency that provides needle exchange and other health services to addicts.

O’Connor said the Police Department partners with Prevention Point to teach clergy and businesses in the area how to administer Narcan.

Because of this, he said, people view police as “more than just people who go out there and enforce the law.”

“It’s the humanity aspect of policing, where we hold life sacred,”  he added.

For more information about the Philadelphia Police Department’s “HEADS-UP” program, call 215- 685-1120. For more information about D.A.V.E. or to obtain a Narcan kit go to https://www.facebook.com/drug.addiction.overdose.education/ or search DAVE – Drug Addiction oVerdose Education on Facebook.

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