Naloxone, the powerful antidote that can successfully reverse an opioid overdose in a matter of seconds, will soon be hitting the streets of New York, via the police department.
Attorney General Eric. T. Schneiderman announced a new program last week that will put naloxone, also know for its trademark name Narcan, directly in the hands of law-enforcement officers. The Community Overdose Prevention program will enable every state and local precinct and every officer in the state of New York to carry a dose of the antidote with them when on patrol.
COP, an acronym for the program, will be funded by federal-state criminal and civil forfeiture money for a total amount of $5 million, enough to cover the costs for the distribution of the prevention kits and the training, Attorney General Schneiderman said in a press release. Each kit – which costs around $60 – consists of a zippered bag with two prefilled syringes of naloxone, two atomizers for nasal administration, sterile gloves and an instruction booklet on how to use the drug. The supply can last approximately two years.
“Naloxone is stunningly effective at stopping an overdose in its tracks, and putting this powerful antidote in the hands of every law-enforcement agent in the state will save countless lives,” said Attorney General Schneiderman in a press conference held on April 3rd.
The death toll from overdoses has been going up in recent years. In New York State, overdose deaths related to prescription painkillers increased 233 percent between 2000 and 2012, reported the New York State Health Department. And heroin-related overdose deaths increased 84 percent between 2010 and 2012 in New York City, after declining for four years. In 2011 alone, approximately 2,000 New Yorkers were killed by opioid overdose.
“I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for securing funding to purchase Naloxone for all police personnel in the state and ensuring that all personnel will be trained in the administration of naloxone,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone as reported by the press statement released by the attorney general’s staff. Last year, Suffolk County police officers and emergency medical workers administered naloxone 594 times, said Bellone.
The new program is crucial considering that police agents are often the first responders on the scene to rescue an overdosed person.
New Jersey has followed a similar path. Governor Chris Christie announced on April 2 that police precincts in Ocean and Monmouth counties will be equipped with naloxone.
They will be the first two counties in what is considered a pilot program to stop the death toll that has been particularly high in New Jersey. Last year, Ocean County reported 100 overdoses, becoming the county with the highest number of opioid overdose deaths in the country, according to Patch.com.
“It is time to stop stigmatizing those who have fallen to the illness of addiction. Most people start this through a mistake in judgment,” said Gov. Christie, addressing an audience at the Herbertsville Fire Company headquarters in Brick Township.
Earlier this year, New York Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) authored an opioid overdose prevention bill to broaden the distribution of naloxone, making the antidote easily accessible among New York health care providers, harm reduction groups and non-medical personnel who would be able to distribute the naloxone under doctors’ “standing orders” instead of specific prescriptions.
Last week, the New York State Senate unanimously passed the naloxone expansion legislation sponsored by Senator Hannon. The Assembly is expected to pass a companion bill sponsored by Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) in the next few weeks, as reported in a press release posted on VOCAL-NY, an organization that advocates for overdose prevention policies.
Naloxone has already been used in New York State to revert overdoses by local health centers, saving lives by providing naloxone and drug administration training throughout the state for more than 10 years. “But the programs have been largely under-funded, receiving a small fraction of the funding now being made available to police agencies through the attorney general’s office,” as reported on the Drug Policy Alliance website, a national organization on drug policies.
“We commend Attorney General Schneiderman for this decision,” said Matt Curtis, policy director for VOCAL-NY in a press release. “It’s people who use drugs, their family and friends who are the most important first responders in an overdose emergency. We want police to be equipped, but the state’s paltry investment in community-based naloxone programs is outrageous.”
Attorney General Schneiderman, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and the New York City Police Department were contacted for a comment about the Community Overdose Prevention (COP) program but calls and email requests were not returned.