Suffolk expands heroin antidote program

A drug antidote kit containiing Narcan is shown

A drug antidote kit containiing Narcan is shown at the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance in Mineola Wednesday. (Aug. 1, 2012) (Credit: Chris Ware)

More Suffolk County police officers will be able to quickly halt heroin and prescription painkiller overdoses under a bill approved by county lawmakers.

The legislature on Tuesday unanimously agreed to expand a state-funded pilot program providing first responders, including police, with the fast-acting opiate antidote naloxone hydrochloride, known as Narcan.

Since July, the program has supplied 335 Narcan doses (at $22 apiece) to basic-trained EMTs at three police precincts and 21 volunteer ambulance companies. Before it could be administered nasally, the antidote was available only to advanced-level EMTs.

County officials say police officers in the precincts that received Narcan have used it to save 22 lives to date, with ambulance company EMTs using the antidote to revive 20 overdose victims. With the program expansion, Suffolk will receive an additional 250 doses; all seven police precincts will now carry Narcan in some patrol cars.

"It was an absolute no-brainer to get this going, and it was an absolute no-brainer to expand it," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who led police Narcan efforts. "Any dose that is out there has the potential to save a life any day of the year."

Bob Delagi, who coordinates Narcan distribution for Suffolk's health department, said the state will review the pilot program's results in January to determine whether they will keep funding the antidote for distribution among the county's 5,000 basic EMTs, including police officers. Already, advanced EMTs, of which there are about 900 in Suffolk, administer intravenous Narcan frequently.

Nassau police has long stocked Narcan within its emergency ambulance division.

"It is sensible public policy," Delagi said.

Suffolk lawmakers say they're hopeful the antidote's availability to basic EMTs will be permanent, because the cost is relatively low for the benefits.

"Invariably, a Suffolk County police officer is always the first one on the scene, and to be able to integrate Narcan training with EMT training is a direct lifesaver," said Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset).

Narcan use is expanding as the number of fatal opiate overdoses in the county -- driven by the prescription drug abuse epidemic -- have exploded. The county medical examiner reported 119 opiate overdose deaths in 2010 and 217 in 2011.

Dr. Scott Coyne, Suffolk police's chief surgeon and medical director, said he didn't know the total number of 2012 opiate fatalities, but noted that the 22 lives police have saved with nasal Narcan have come from only three precincts.

"We've really experienced unparalleled success," Coyne said of the pilot program.

Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said he suspects Suffolk's increased Narcan use will reduce the number of fatalities this year, but that the larger issue of providing opiate addicts better rehabilitation options remains.

"I'm thrilled to see the progress, and it's absolutely phenomenal for folks who are revived -- they get a second chance at life," he said. "I think the very least we can do is keep these people alive long enough to see the front door of a comprehensive treatment facility."

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