The lifesaving drug police officers use to reverse opioid overdoses has been administered more than 2,200 times across Long Island, law enforcement and health officials say.
Naloxone — or Narcan as it is commonly known — has become an integral tool for police departments in Nassau and Suffolk, officials said. It has reversed 962 opioid overdoses in Suffolk since officers began carrying it in 2012, according to Suffolk Chief of Department Stuart Cameron. In Nassau, police have used naloxone to reverse 1,271 overdoses since the department began tracking its use in 2016, said Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, a police spokesman.
Abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl has reached crisis proportions in the United States. On Long Island, an estimated 600 people died of drug overdoses in 2017 as part of an opioid epidemic, authorities said. Nearly 500 people died on Long Island of drug overdoses in 2016. Police and health officials say the potent painkiller fentanyl contributed to the spike in drug-related deaths.
Suffolk Police Officer Kevin Butler, who has used naloxone on overdosed drug users 20 times since undergoing EMT training 20 years ago, said officers rushing out on overdose calls are trained to administer the drug as a nasal spray or an injection. “Nine times out of 10, we are the first ones there,” Butler said. “We are already in our cars, on patrol.”
Nassau police started issuing naloxone to officers in 2013, and the department has administered it more frequently in recent years than police in Suffolk because Nassau precincts include ambulance crews.
“Every time we Narcan a kid and bring him back, we give him an opportunity to get help,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. “If we can keep them alive long enough so they can get treatment, we’re in a better place than we were yesterday.”
Nikki Motta, 24, was revived by Narcan administered by a police officer twice after overdosing on two separate occasions in the autumn of 2012. The first overdose occurred after, Motta said, she used heroin in a pickup truck parked at the Centereach Mall. She was again revived a few weeks later, after she overdosed at her home in Centereach.
“I was fortunate,” said Motta, who now lives in Georgia. “Narcan gives addicts a chance to live a sober, healthy life.”
Suffolk Police Officer Matthew Siesto, who treated Motta and became her mentor, encouraged her to enter a drug-treatment program and become drug-free.
“The realization that she lived through it twice makes me realize that everything happens for a reason and life is precious,” Siesto said. “I am so happy that she has had a chance to change her life and begin anew.”
Suffolk County Courts Sgt. Regina Rutigliano, who revived a man with Narcan last year at the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip, said court officers receive training in how to administer the drug. “It’s a reflection of the times and the opioid epidemic,” Rutigliano said. “Law enforcement is evolving to meet the needs of the community.”
Southampton Town police say they have administered naloxone more than 50 times since 2015, while Southampton Village police have used the drug four times since it began supplying officers with it seven years ago.
“All our officers are issued Narcan as a part of their uniform,” said Det. Sgt Herman Lamison of the Southampton Village police, where officers started using it in 2015.
East Hampton Town police say they used the drug to reverse 19 overdoses since 2014. Police in Southold have used naloxone 10 times since 2014 to save drug users from overdoses.
The New York City Police Department began issuing naloxone to its officers in 2014 and administered it 155 times in 2017, the first year the department began tracking its use, according to a spokeswoman.
Narcan works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking the effect of narcotics such as heroin, health experts say.
Suffolk County is New York State’s pioneer in the use of naloxone, according to Valerie White, deputy director of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute. Suffolk police participated in a 2012 pilot program to determine if officers should be provided the drug and trained in its use.
Suffolk police were chosen for the program, Cameron said, because its officers have been required to undergo EMT training since 1987.
About 10,000 police officers across New York have been trained to use naloxone, White said. The state spent $7 million last year distributing naloxone to police as well as fire departments, schools and other organizations.
The drug has also been administered thousands of times in recent years in Nassau and Suffolk by EMTs, firefighters, emergency room physicians and even the relatives and friends of drug users.
The U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, recommended last month that people who use opioids, as well as their friends and family, should carry naloxone in the event of an overdose. State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Health, will hold a legislative roundtable discussion in Albany on Tuesday that will focus on expanding access to naloxone.
Many drug users who have been revived with naloxone are angry because the drug reverses their high, said Siesto, who has administered naloxone to about 10 other people in addition to Motta.
Narcan is not a cure for addiction, said Christopher Raio, chairman of emergency medicine for Catholic Health Services of Long Island, a hospital network that operates Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre and other facilities. The drug buys drug users time to get into treatment, he said.
Good Samaritan and other Catholic Health Services hospitals pair drug users who are recovering from overdoses with peer counselors who give them information about treatment. The peer counselors, called “Sherpas,” named after the Himalayan ethnic group famed for its skills as mountain guides, “make sure (drug users) can get the treatment they need if they are willing and able,” Raio said.
Tatiana Green, 29, of New Hyde Park, said a Nassau County ambulance crew saved her life with naloxone after she overdosed when she was 18 years old. Green now works as an addiction recovery coach and gives presentations on the dangers of opioids in Long Island and New York schools.
“If I had died that night, what would have happened to all the people I helped over the last seven years? What would have happened to them?” she asked.
Officials in some communities across the country that have been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic have discussed refusing naloxone to drug users who have been revived with it multiple times, because of the cost.
Police on Long Island reject that idea.
“We come to this job to save people, and Narcan gives people a chance,” Cameron said. “Some people need two, three, four chances to turn their lives around.”
Green, one of the people saved by Narcan, agrees.
“Every time somebody gets revived with Narcan, it gives them an opportunity to live and make real changes,” she said. “I’m a different person now. I’m a stronger person.”
Long Island police use of Narcan on overdoses