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Johnson City police now carrying overdose reversal drug

Zach Vance • Updated Nov 20, 2017 at 9:45 PM

A dose of naloxone can literally mean the difference between life or death for someone experiencing the symptoms of an opioid overdose. 

That’s why more and more first responders are incorporating the invaluable drug into their supply bags, including most recently the Johnson City Police Department. 

According to a Monday press release, Johnson City police are taking a proactive approach by training and equipping each regular patrol officer with a dose of naloxone.

“Having naloxone on hand to administer as quickly as possible increases the likelihood that we can save lives at immediate risk from opioid overdoses,” Police Chief Mark Sirois said. “Likewise, it is a safety measure for our officers, should they come in contact with these lethal drugs in the field.”

Sold under the brand name Narcan, naloxone is an opioid antagonist administered through injection or nasal spray that immediately counteracts the symptoms of an opioid overdose. Nalxone works by binding to the opiate receptors in the brain and reversing or blocking an opioid’s effects, such as slowed heart rate and breathing. 

“When you come upon a person who has overdosed from an opioid, that’s the time you move in with naloxone and it can turn that person around, getting them back to breathing. That’s the purpose of it is when EMS gets there, the person who overdosed is still there,” Sirois said. 

Sirois said his department has been devising the program for about a year. He said Johnson City based its naloxone program on similar programs around the state, including the Knoxville Police Department’s, which began carrying naloxone in September 2015. 

“My contacts with some of my colleagues led me to look at this program more closely because they had implemented it, and their jurisdictions had some success with it,” Sirois said. “Knoxville has a very robust program, and we spent a lot of time looking at it.” 

Johnson City officers were trained on the use of naloxone following a curriculum approved through the Tennessee Department of Health. In addition to the patrol officers, Sirois said other units will receive naloxone training in the near future. 

More than 1,600 Tennesseans died from from drug overdoses in 2016, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Specifically in Washington County, opioid overdoses were responsible for 30 of the 37 total overdose deaths in 2016. By contrast, in 2012, only a quarter of the 20 overdose deaths in Washington County were attributed to opioids. 

“We are hopeful that, with this program in place, we will at least have the opportunity as first responders to make a difference, when seconds count, to someone suffering an overdose — someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, brother, sister, or best friend,” Sirois said.

The Johnson City Police Department received its first supply of naloxone, estimated to be around 150 doses, through funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee Health Foundation grant program. Sirois said all future doses will be funded through the police department’s drug fund. 

Each dose averages around $37 for 4 milligrams of the nasal spray. 

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, Elizabethton Police Department and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department also carry naloxone. 

Earlier this year, Adapt Pharma, the makers of Narcan, announced it would donate 20,000 cartons (40,000 doses) to colleges and universities throughout the United States as part of a partnership with the Clinton Health Matters Initiative. In 2015, the manufacturer offered the same to all U.S. high schools. 

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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