Buffalo police officers – who can be first on the scene when responding to a report of a heroin overdose – will soon carry a powerful prescription drug to reverse the effects of an overdose.
The Buffalo Police Department will become the first department locally to train officers on how to administer Narcan. The drug, which police will dispense through a nasal spray, has been successful in treating overdoses of heroin and other opiates, including OxyContin and Vicodin.
“We’ve seen a nationwide epidemic of heroin overdoses. It’s hitting Buffalo. It’s hitting the suburbs,” said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. “Basically, if somebody’s overdosing, this could save their life.”
The antidote was successfully used by paramedics to revive a 26-year-old Lancaster woman earlier this year.
The epidemic of heroin abuse has hit close to home in Buffalo. So far this year, there have been eight heroin overdose deaths, and a ninth from another drug.
Last year, 29 people died of heroin overdoses in Erie County, almost a third more than in 2012.
Narcan has been used by other first responders locally, including Rural/Metro. Police departments in Suffolk County, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and New Jersey also carry the antidote.
Mayor Byron W. Brown said he approached Derenda six months ago and asked him to look into equipping city police officers with Narcan, generically known as naloxone.
“We think that it is something that will save lives in our community, and it’s part of our focus on enhancing public safety in the city of Buffalo,” Brown said.
Brown announced the initiative in his State of the City speech Friday.
So far, 48 officers have been trained, Derenda said. He expects officers will soon carry the antidote.
The Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents police officers, was not aware of the Narcan initiative, said Treasurer Frank Guevara.
Officers receive other first-responder medical training, including CPR.
Before officers can carry Narcan, they must complete training, and then an administrator in the Erie County Department of Health will write each officer a prescription to carry the drug.
Officers will use the drug at their discretion.
“We’re going to train them. We’re going to supply it,” Derenda said. “It’s going to be up to them whether they use it. We believe they will. Officers are out there to help the public.”
The drug has no harmful effects on people who have not overdosed on an opiate, said Cheryll Moore, medical care administrator with the Erie County Department of Health.
“It’s going to save lives,” said Moore, who will train officers. “It’s better to err on the side of giving” the drug, she said.
She hopes other local police departments follow Buffalo’s lead.
Training takes three to eight hours, depending on the experience of each group of officers, Moore said.
Officers will report when they use it. The outcomes will be reported to the state Department of Health, which funds the Narcan program, Moore said.
Brown revealed another Police Department development in his speech.
One of the department’s 49 new sport utility vehicles was put on display before the 1,200 people who gathered at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
The new vehicles sport a classic black-and-white design with highly reflective tape.
“We want our vehicles to be visible. We want people to see us,” Derenda said. “Part of our crime strategy is high visibility.”
The city purchased 49 Chevrolet Tahoes to begin replacing its aging fleet, which includes hundreds of Ford Crown Victorias. Replacing the entire fleet will take a few years.
The city considered the Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus and Dodge Charger, but police officials liked the room the Tahoe provides, Derenda said.
The department expects its fuel costs will decrease with the new vehicles. The Tahoe model chosen by the city costs $1,000 less than the Impala, Derenda said.