“These people aren’t simply high, they’re not breathing.”
-Shane Hardwick, IEMS paramedic
About one year ago, officers in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD)’s southwest district began administering Narcan, a drug used to treat opioid overdose victims.
From April to December of that pilot program, district records show they utilized the drug 46 times. That demand has helped highlight the current need for the treatment. As a result, the pilot program has now been expanded throughout IMPD.
Personnel from the Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services (IEMS) have trained officers from IMPD’s southeast district on how to administer the drug.
“This is an epidemic. The amount of Narcan we are giving out right now is incredible. I’ve been working for the city for 22 years and I’ve never seen the amount of overdoses we are having right now,” mentioned Shane Hardwick, paramedic at IEMS. Those overdoses include prescription opioids— medications that relieve pain— but also heroin and morphine.
The sobering local trend of drug overdose reflects a national pattern which may well increase in severity, driven in part by the increase in prescription pain medication use. For example, according to the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, prescription pain medication became a $329.2 billion industry in 2011.
The Indiana State Department of Health said there has been an increase of nearly three times the number of heroin related deaths since 2010, while Marion County reported 154 heroin overdose deaths in 2014.
Recently Gov. Mike Pence signed SEA 406, which “allows individuals to obtain and administer overdose intervention drugs, known as Nalaxone or Narcan, to save individuals who have overdosed on opioids, including heroin.” Previously, only health professionals had the authority to administer this drug, but that changed when legislation passed with unanimous bipartisan support in both the Indiana House and Senate.
“With the rise of heroin addiction across our state, this important legislation will make available overdose intervention treatments and will save lives in Indiana,” said Pence.
“Families, friends and loved ones struggling with the scourge of opioid addiction will now have access to life-saving medications that work immediately when administered and will help prevent the heartbreaking loss of life we hear about too often in the case of drug overdoses.”
Hardwick said the rise in prescription drug abuse may be attributed to their relatively inexpensive cost, convenience and a method of stress relief.
“In Wayne Township, out of the four ambulances, we were giving at least one dose a day, every day. That means these people aren’t simply high, they’re not breathing,” said Hardwick. “That’s how much Narcan we are going through.”
Since officers are often the first on scene, they can readily administer the drug and possibly save a life. Each officer will be equipped with 2ml of Narcan, used to be distributed to the victim nasally, one 1ml in each nostril.
IEMS believes the drug is safe to use and has little to no side effects. Even if officers aren’t completely sure an individual is suffering from drug overdose, they are instructed to administer the drug if similar symptoms persist. Narcan will not affect those who may suffer from diabetic issues or stroke.
“Officers are taking (the drug) today and of course we have separate training shifts throughout the week so by the end of the week we will have all of our officers trained,” said Capt. Ron Hicks.
If officers are in need of more treatment, they are to inform their immediate supervisors of a replacement. They are also expected to carry the drug directly on them as it could freeze or lose effectiveness if left in a vehicle.
As part of training, officers will need to document each drug administration using the department’s system, said Ed Brickley, IMPD patrolman. The officer’s report will include the location of the incident, the victim’s name, what occurred before the drug was given and any drug reaction by the patient.
Carl Rochelle, IEMS public information officer said Narcan is ordered regularly and about a six-month supply, equal to about 500 units is on hand.
“We’ve seen some warehouse shortages where we’ve placed an order but it hasn’t been filled but it usually comes in the next day,” said Rochelle. “This combined with Senate Bill 406 signed into law by Gov. Pence is going to increase the demand. We don’t know what that will do, but so far we know we can maintain the current situation.”
Rochelle also added that the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation makes the program’s funding possible. Each dose costs about $30.
Law enforcement and medical administrators hope the Lifeline law 227 signed in March 2014, which originally gave legal protection to minors who are under the influence of alcohol when they call to report a medical emergency or crime, and now allows police officers to administer Narcan and other medical treatments during the case of overdose will help bystanders react quickly during an emergency.
“The signing of this bill will save Hoosier lives,” said Dr. Jerome Adams, commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health. “Many overdoses happen in the presence of others, and readily available naloxone is a proven method for bystanders and loved ones to provide rescue assistance.”