“When I get there, they’re down … they’re laying on the floor basically dead … their breathing is very sporadic, it’s not a breath that you would be able to maintain life with … [and] they’re usually a shade of grey,” said Chief of Police Tom Ankrom, describing one of the several times he’s come in contact with opioid overdose in Greene County.
From January to August 2019, Greene County experienced 10 opioid overdoses. The usual culprit being heroin, Ankrom said.
“Heroin slows everything down. It stops your heart, stops your breathing.”
These symptoms require both CPR and the use of a defibrillator to steady the patient’s breathing and bring life back into them. The majority of the time however, the police beat EMS to the scene. So, the patient has to wait.
During this waiting period, anything could happen.
To give these patients a fighting chance, Chief County Detective David Lloyd said the Waynesburg Borough Police Department has started to carry Narcan, a Naloxone brand medicine that helps reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.
“When you give the Narcan, they actually fully come to,” Ankrom said. “I’ve went from seeing people down on the floor, where you thought they were dead, to walking them out of the building after giving them Narcan.”
This solution is not permanent because the Narcan can only help for so long.
“It basically overtakes the opioid; [however], you still have to get them to the hospital because the Narcan will wear off,” Ankrom said. “But it gets us the time we need to get to the hospital and make sure they’re squared away.”
Narcan gives them a fighting chance, said Lloyd, but it also keeps the police officers safe as well.
“Another big reason for us to carry it is because officers are exposed to these chemicals as well. So, I want to make sure that officers have it for not only the person having the issue but if we’re contaminated. So, if officers get sick, we have the ability to administer it to each other,” Ankrom said.
Ankrom explained some officers are already carrying the drug, but he’s waiting to get everyone certified within the next four months.
“The training in the past has been offered in our yearly updates … the problem is that here we have officers that have started police work after that, so we have to get them [trained],” Ankrom said. “Once I get everybody squared away, everybody will have it.”
The training consists of an online course that all administers of Narcan must take before being able to carry and administer the drug. Lloyd said it is a very simple training, because it’s a very simple medicine.
“It walks you through how to use the product, and when you get there, how to recognize if it’s an opioid type of overdose and how to administer the product that you’re given,” Ankrom said.
There are two types of Narcan: intranasal and auto-injector. The police department will be certified to carry the intranasal version, which is administered through the nasal cavity.
“It’s super small; it’s light; it’s not intrusive,” Lloyd said.
It’s also a relatively safe drug.
“From the training I’ve had, if we show up and we suspect that it’s heroin, we’ve been told that by giving them the Narcan, even if we’re wrong in our diagnosis, there’s not going to be lasting effects,” Ankrom said.
There are some products that Narcan does not work with, but it’s better to have it than nothing, included Ankrom.
“It’s invaluable. If you can save a life, why not carry it,” Lloyd said.