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Training Law Enforcement to Identify Overdose and Use Naloxone

  TRAINING LAW ENFORCEMENT TO SAVE LIVES! NY Police Naloxone video

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 Training Law Enforcement to Identify Overdose and Use Naloxone

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Members of law enforcement happy to now be equipped with the power to save lives from opioid overdose. From left to right: Joseph Olenik, CPL from Town of North Salem Police Department and James Kellegher from New York State Park Police.

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to join Harm Reduction Coalition’s Medical Director Dr. Sharon Stancliff and Physician Assistant (PA) Bill Matthews at a training of New York State law enforcement officers in the identification of opioid overdose and the use of naloxone.

Three sessions were held throughout the day at the Westchester County Department of Public Safety Police Academy, with 55 law enforcement officers becoming certified. Approximately half of the participants had voluntarily chosen to attend the training, as many of them had past experiences with overdose. The immediate need for the spread of this knowledge is glaringly obvious in a particular statistic – at least one participant from every past training session has used their new knowledge to save a life between 24 and 48 hours after the session. The impact of Wednesday’s training will go even further than usual, as the majority of participants were involved in a “Train the Trainer” session, meaning that they will be implementing this training at their workplaces.

Training began with a viewing of the video above and a discussion of the current high rate of opioid use in New York in order to ensure that participants recognized the necessity of this training. After providing the basic knowledge required to prevent death in an overdose situation, Dr. Stancliff and PA Matthews, with encouragement from Joshua Vinehout of the NY State Division of Criminal Justice Services, took the opportunity to ensure that participants were aware of the Good Samaritan law and the laws around needle and syringe possession. The Good Samaritan law encourages people to call 911 immediately during an overdose situation by offering limited protection from police arrest or criminal prosecution for drug possession for the victim and witnesses that seek emergency assistance. In New York, the possession of needles and syringes is permitted by law, even if containing residue of illicit substances, to encourage safe disposal. Training participants understood that implementing these laws and staying true to their intent is essential in promoting the best health outcomes in communities.

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Dr. Stancliff explains the crucial Good Samaritan law to an attentive audience.

The most exciting part of the session for participants seemed to be when they were given the opportunity to actually practice putting together the intranasal naloxone kit and giving it a spray. It was also during this time that the law enforcement officers felt most comfortable to ask their questions and express their concerns. As Dr. Stancliff, PA Matthews, and I went around the room practicing one-on-one with participants until they felt comfortable using the equipment, there were two comments that came up several times. Participants were concerned about accidently spraying the naloxone into the air or onto people other than the overdose victim. They feared that naloxone would be harmful if it got into their eyes, nose or mouth, or onto their skin. We explained that naloxone is not harmful to anyone at all, as its only effect is to temporarily block opioids from acting on the body. In the case of a person addicted to opioids, the negative effect of naloxone would be to put them into withdrawal. Since there is no effect beyond this, there are no consequences of being exposed to naloxone if you do not have opioids in your body. A second, but related, concern was around issues of liability. Participants feared that by administering naloxone they would be liable for the health outcomes of the overdose victims. In response to this, Dr. Stancliff and PA Matthews explained that the overdose law in New York State (PHL 3309) protects non-medical personnel who administer naloxone in an overdone situation from liability, specifically stating that they “shall be considered first aid or emergency treatment.” Hence, the law allows anyone to provide naloxone for use as first aid on another person without having to worry about liability. And since naloxone has no negative consequences, even if administered to someone not suffering from an opioid overdose, liability is not an issue!

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Kevin McGovern from New York City HRA is excited to be certified!

At the end of the training session, every participant was given a naloxone kit along with a prescription legally allowing them to administer the medicine. The Westchester Commissioner of Health, Dr. Sherita Amler, was on site for all three training sessions and personally wrote the prescriptions for the participants. Until recently, state law governing naloxone programs required the presence of a medical person to personally write the prescription. This bureaucratic barrier posed an obstacle to the speed and scale with which naloxone could be put into the hands of community members. On June 23, New York’s Governor Cuomo signed a law allowing standing orders for naloxone to modify this law so that a medical person does not actually need to be present when naloxone is distributed.

Despite the hurdles that come with the implementation of any new law, Dr. Stancliff and PA Matthews expressed that they are very happy with the speed and scale of naloxone adoption in New York State, and particularly, the rate with which law enforcement have adopted this essential medicine and are continuing to do so. The training program that Dr. Stancliff and PA Matthews have developed is a valuable resource that they are proud to be involved in teaching. They are excited to see it adapted and used as law enforcement officers return to their workplaces and train others to prevent unnecessary opioid deaths.

By Nazlee Maghsoudi, Intern at Harm Reduction Coalition and International Drug Policy Consortium

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