Officers equipped to respond to overdoses
By Scott Bellile
It feels a bit surreal to New London Police Chief Jeff Schlueter that his police department is now carrying the opioid-reversing drug Narcan.
“It’s hard. I didn’t think the police department would ever be carrying a drug to revive people in our squads,” Schlueter said. “That was typically something that was left to the ambulance crew, but you know, times are changing, and our main goal is to preserve life, and we just felt it was necessary to accomplish this goal.”
Twenty-three New London Police Department staff members completed naloxone training with Gold Cross Ambulance on July 25. NLPD placed Narcan, also known by the generic name naloxone, into its primary police squads that afternoon.
Officers will spray the nasal agents into an unresponsive drug user’s nose if he or she overdoses on heroin or its more potent counterparts, fentanyl and carfentanil.
Naloxone is not guaranteed to save a life, but police officers will increase the likelihood if they arrive to a scene equipped before Gold Cross paramedics do.
NLPD successfully completed its first month of carrying naloxone without officers having to deploy it, Schlueter said.
Gold Cross facilitated the officer training program for free. NLPD stocked up on $500 worth of Narcan kits it purchased from Gold Cross.
No police department undergoing training is required to buy from Gold Cross, the company’s staff development manager Nick Romenesko said. Ultimately, Gold Cross wants more police departments within the ambulance company’s service area to carry naloxone regardless of who sells it to them, he said.
Last year in Gold Cross’ 1,200-square-mile service area, 101 drug overdoses required Narcan administration by EMS, Romenesko said.
Chief stands by decision
To save or not to save a drug abuser who voluntarily takes a dangerous opioid has become a hot question.
Famously in July, a city alderman in Ohio, Dan Picard, suggested leaving a drug user to die if a first responder gets called to their rescue for a third time. In his eyes, returning to an addict’s home with naloxone is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
Schlueter disagreed with Picard’s viewpoint and said carrying naloxone is a positive move for New London.
“It’s not just for the drug addict we’re carrying this,” Schlueter said. “We’re also carrying for the accidental exposure by touch that could be out there.”
NLPD dispatchers and community service officers are among the 23 staffers trained to use naloxone for in the event a police officer were to overdose while testing confiscated drugs in the lab.
Fentanyl and carfentanil are so strong that a police officer or bystander can overdose on either drug just by accidentally touching or inhaling it.
Dealers are selling heroin in New London, Schlueter said. Word is fentanyl is out there, but NLPD has not verified this.
Not just New London’s problem
Two of New London’s immediately neighboring police departments, Weyauwega and Hortonville, bought naloxone last year to combat the growing heroin problem.
Hortonville Police Sgt. Brian Bahr said his police department has not deployed naloxone since it began carrying last summer.
Weyauwega is a different story.
Police Chief Gerald Poltrock said Weyauwega police have administered naloxone six to eight times since spring 2016. This includes a call where they left their jurisdiction to treat a motorist on U.S. Highway 10.
“The alarming increase in heroin overdoses that we were experiencing” prompted the decision to carry, Poltrock said.
While some believe a person who uses a dangerous drug should not survive their own overdose, Poltrock said deaths are devastating to family members.
“It’s not looked on positively by some people, but for us in law enforcement it’s another life-saving tool in our toolbox,” he said of naloxone.
All naloxone deployments so far have been for heroin, but police have encountered fentanyl in drug arrests and raids, Poltrock said. There have been no safety issues with fentanyl because police use proper protective equipment to handle it.
For Weyauwega Police Department, whose force is a quarter of the size of New London’s, Poltrock admits naloxone is a “financial burden,” but one that must be overcome.
Downstairs from the police department, city hall staff will even be trained to deploy naloxone in case a person overdoses but cannot get to police on the second story in time, Poltrock said.
Waupaca is battling an even larger opioid crisis: 14 overdoses between January and June alone, Waupaca Police Chief Brian Hoelzel told the Waupaca County Post last month.
Waupaca Police Department plans to begin carrying naloxone. A brat fry was held Aug. 12 to help raise the funds for police to purchase Narcan kits.
While police departments are stepping up to help their residents, Schlueter said Narcan kits cannot solve the problem alone.
He called on family members of drug addicts to find help for their loved ones before it is too late.
“I hope that we never have to use [our Narcan dosages], but if we do use them, I hope the person takes advantage of the opportunity if they do survive from the overdose to go get some help and hopefully educate the public on how dangerous this stuff is,” Schlueter said. “Yes, we will be there to save you if we can, but we still have to get there before you stop breathing.”