When a person overdoses on heroin or opioids, police officers called to the scene used to be unable to do much besides call for medical services.
Now, more officers in the Buffalo area are becoming trained and equipped to save people who are close to death after a heroin or opioid overdose. Instead of waiting for paramedics to inject victims with naloxone, a lifesaving medication that reverses the effect of overdoses caused by heroin and other opioids, through a needle, cops can use the same drug through a nasal spray.
“The typical scenario is an officer gets called, someone overdosed, they show up at the scene and the person’s lying there blue because they stopped breathing,” said Mike Green, the head of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
This year, his department collaborated with the state Department of Health and the Office of Substance Abuse and Services to make that “typical scenario” atypical across New York State.
Monday, at Erie Community College North Campus, state officials trained officers and department trainers from around Buffalo in one-hour sessions. Officers walked out with a kit of naloxone and an understanding of how to save those who overdose. Trainers walked out ready to teach officers back at their respective departments how to do so.
“You literally spray this naloxone into their nose and it reverses the effects of the overdose,” Green explained. “There have been many cases of it working. People literally get brought back to life.”
Officers and trainers from the Cheektowaga, East Aurora/Town of Aurora, Evans and Westfield police departments, as well as representatives from the State Police, state Attorney General’s Office, State Park Police, state Office of Mental Health and the State University of New York attended the sessions.
Training continues today and Wednesday, and a total of at least 100 officers and trainers are expected to attend.
Green said the goal is for every officer in New York State to be trained and equipped to use naloxone.
Some police departments in the Buffalo area began training their officers to use naloxone before the statewide effort.
The Buffalo Police Department, the Town of Hamburg Police, the Village of Hamburg Police, the Village of Blasdell Police and nine Hamburg Fire Companies are already certified to administer the intranasal spray.
Erie County Commissioner of Health Gale R. Burstein believes officers using naloxone can save drug users’ lives and, subsequently, give them a second chance to receive medical care to combat their addictions.
Burstein said heroin addiction in Erie County is a “huge problem,” particularly because prescription drugs are harder to find on the streets since the 2012 state enactment of the Drug Reform Act Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP). The law better regulates prescription narcotics.
“There is less prescription narcotics available on the market to be sold, and so there’s a lot of heroin out there,” Bur- stein said. “It’s cheap, so people are switching over to heroin much quicker than they have been in the past.”
As of May 6, there have been 17 heroin-related deaths in Erie County this year, according to Mary C. St. Mary, the medical care administrator for the Erie County Department of Health.
The training at ECC’s North Campus Monday, today and Wednesday marks the state’s second set of training sessions in its statewide effort to reach as many police departments that haven’t been trained to use naloxone as possible.
The statewide-training effort began late April in Albany, in which officials trained nearly 260 officers from 42 agencies.
“Within about a week after that training, one of the sheriff’s deputies from Columbia County who attended that training actually used a naloxone to reverse the effects of an overdose,” Green said.
“I believe it was a 63-year-old man who overdosed on pills.”
In addition to Albany and Erie counties, trainings will occur in Westchester, Ulster, Orange, Clinton, Dutchess, Onondaga, Steuben and Monroe counties throughout June and July.