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Cops trained on life-saving antidote for drug overdose

By Rick Sherman

“Saving a life is more important than a criminal case.”
So said Captain Bill Barnes of the Price Police Department during a training session Thursday on the use of Naloxone, a lifesaving antidote which reverses and stops opioid overdose. The administration of Naloxone has proven to be a safe intervention for opiate overdoses, and when there is an overdose, officers and deputies are most often the first on scene.
The training session was attended by about two dozen law enforcement officers including Sheriff’s Deputies, and officers from the Price, Helper and Wellington Police Departments. Capt. Barnes emphasized the human element in overdose incidents by reminding the officers, “These could be your wives, your cousins, your friends.”

Leading cause of death

Drug overdose deaths are now the nation’s leading cause of injury death in the United States. The CDC reports that every day in the United States 120 people die as a result of drug overdose and more than 50 percent of those overdoses are related to pharmaceuticals. The national epidemic of pain killer and heroin overdose deaths has spread throughout rural Utah, and among Utah’s local health districts, Southeast Utah had a significantly higher opioid death rate compared to the rest of the state.
Utah has joined a growing number of states that have changed their laws in recent years to expand access to the lifesaving drug. Rep. Brad King was instrumental in a bi-partisan effort that culminated with the passage of opiate overdose-related bills during the 2016 legislative session, including the “Good Samaritan Law,” which provides protection for people who call in an overdose. As long as they stay on scene and cooperate with law enforcement, they will not be prosecuted even if they have participated in illegal drug activity. Another law protects individuals who, in good faith administer opiate antidotes, from civil liability.

A health emergency

Rep. King said, “There was a $500,000 allocation from the legislature last year. That’s for outreach- that’s not all for Naloxone. We passed eight laws regarding opioid use, and one declaration that it’s a health emergency.”
Melody Yost-Ellett, whose son died of an opiate overdose, provided the training for local law enforcement. She is a retired paramedic and the developer of “Save a Life Coalition & Training” company, whose mission is ending opiate overdose deaths.
Opioid overdose kills because it causes respiratory depression which leads to cardiac arrest. Naloxone, also known by the brand name, Narcan, works by kicking the opiates out of the receptors in the brain which allows the person to breathe again. Naloxone can be administered by injection or by a nasal spray, which is the preferred method among law enforcement officers.
Captain Barnes said there are a few steps left in the process, including further supplementary training for the officers, certification by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, and the adoption of a policy by each department. The Naloxone kits will be then distributed to officers in the next few weeks by the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management, which will administer the program.
Funding for the Naloxone kits was provided by Four Corners Community Behavioral Health Center from a state grant. Executive Director Karen Dolan said, “We’ve lost so many young people- we’re second in the state behind Salt Lake County for opiate overdose deaths. And it’s not just heroin – it’s your grandpa on a ton of Lortabs. It’s people with chronic pain that have a big prescription of opioids.”
Dolan also noted people sometimes turn to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get than prescription medications. “We are very proud of our local law enforcement for taking this step. If we can help people stay alive, get them the support and treatment they need, they’ll have a chance at long term recovery.”

Available for general public

Dolan said the Naloxone kits are also available to the general public and are covered by insurance and medicaid. Currently there are local efforts to get pharmacies to stock the kits and get them distributed to friends and family members with a loved one who is struggling with an opiate addiction. Four Corners also has some kits available at no cost for those without insurance.

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