Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan, Delaware County Council and state Rep. Joe Hackett (R-161), of Ridley, joined police officers and municipal representatives at a press conference last week at the county medical examiner’s office to urge support for state legislation that would permit police in Pennsylvania to carry and administer naloxone, commonly known as Narcan; a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose, such as heroin, and bring an unresponsive person back to life.
Whelan said, “Police officers need every life-saving tool available so they can continue to protect and serve the community. Anything we can lawfully do to save someone’s life is something we need to look at doing.”
Pennsylvania law currently prohibits unauthorized persons from administering prescription drugs. Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-18), of Bucks County, has proposed a bill to provide statutory authority needed for police to administer Narcan. Currently in Pennsylvania, which has the nation’s 14th highest drug overdose mortality rate, only medical personnel are permitted to administer the life-saving drug.
Last week, James McCans, director of paramedics for Haverford, demonstrated how the drug is used and said, “We are behind the times. This (law) needs to occur.”
Whelan offered Delaware County as a pilot site for a state Narcan program that would be funded by grants through the Delaware County Heroin Task Force, drug forfeiture assets or the county’s special project fund.
The cost for Narcan kits range from $15 to $25 each.
Currently, several states, including Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, allow police to administer the drug and when legislation is passed in Pennsylvania, county officials plan to equip all municipal police vehicles with nasal naloxone.
“When help is called, police officers are often the first to the scene,” Whelan said. “Experts say those early minutes can be the key to saving a life.”
As more people become addicted to prescription drugs such as Percocet and Ocycontin, they turn to cheaper and readily available drugs, such as heroin.
In the past four weeks, Delaware County has had four heroin death overdoses. Since the beginning of 2012, there have been 12 heroin-related deaths in the county.
Calling it an “epidemic,” Hackett, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he is tired of attending funerals.
“This bill is just another tool to assist law enforcement and first responders in saving lives and protecting the community from the opioid epidemic occurring,” Hackett said.
In Quincy, MA, a community near Boston with a population of 100,000, police have been carrying nasal naloxone since October 2010. The drug has been administered 221 times and 211 overdoses have been reversed.
Both Delaware County Medical Examiner Dr. Fredric Hellman and Delaware County Senior Medical Advisor Dr. George Avetian believe naloxone could increase someone’s chances of surviving on overdose.
“Naloxone has been around for a long time and is regarded within the medical community as being highly effective when used properly,” said Avetian. “Within minutes it can reverse the affects of an overdose and save a life.”
The bill proposed by DiGirolamo will require the Department of Health to make changes to the scope of practice provisions no later than Dec. 31, 2014.