The Pitt County Sheriffs Office has become the first law enforcement agency in North Carolina to equip its patrol cars with Naloxone, a substance that counteracts the effects of drug overdoses for heroin and other opioids.
When sheriffs deputies started their shifts on May 1, among the items inside their vehicles were Narcan kits, which are about the size of a eyeglass case. The kits contain a syringe with a foam-like nasal injector and two vials of Naloxone.
By May 9, all sheriffs vehicles were equipped with the drug, said Pitt County sheriffs spokeswoman Christy Wallace.
Equipping sheriffs vehicles with the life-saving kits is a practical measure, Pitt officials say, particularly in the countys rural areas where it may take longer for paramedics to arrive.
In our rural community, a typical response time for EMS is anywhere from 7 to 13 minutes, said Melissia Larson, a grants administrator with the Pitt County Sheriffs Office. Law enforcement, however, might be just around the corner. As first responders on the scene, precious moments tick by as EMS responds; this is the time a deputy can deploy Narcan, should the person be experiencing an overdose to any type of opioid drug.
Like other communities across the country, Pitt County has seen a surge in heroin use in recent years, on the heels of a nationwide epidemic of overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers such as OxyContin, methadone and hydrocodone. In 2012, heroin deaths nearly doubled statewide, to 148, while overall deaths from all narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs ticked up only slightly.
Pitt County had at least three confirmed heroin overdose deaths in 2012, Wallace said. In the past two years, county paramedics have administered Naloxone more than 250 times in rural parts of the county, said Jack Cote, Deputy Director of Pitt Countys Emergency Medical Services.
This is a nationwide epidemic, Cote wrote in an email, and no community is immune.
In addition, seizures of heroin by sheriffs deputies in Pitt has increased as well, from an average of three a year between 2002 and 2007 to an average of 29 cases a year since 2008, according to the sheriffs office.
More than 145 patrol officers, investigators and school resource officers received an hour of training on using Naloxone, Wallace said. The new program evolved from a partnership that began last fall involving the sheriffs office, emergency medical services, the East Carolina University Department of Emergency Medicine and the Community Care Plan of Eastern North Carolina, a regional network of primary care physicians, public health agencies, social services and hospitals that work to improve access to health care for Medicaid patients.
For the past six years, we have been investigating the growing trend of pill abuse in the form of doctor shopping, theft, fraud and illegal diversion, Larson said. In turn, we recognize that many people turn to street drugs such as heroin when their access to prescription pain pills becomes limited or it becomes cost prohibitive.
Larson thinks that providing deputies with the training to use Naloxone is similar to having defibrillators in patrol cars for when officers encounter someone suffering cardiac arrest.
If you have a deputy on scene witnessing a person in cardiac arrest or an overdose situation and he has the tools to buy this person precious minutes until EMS arrives, why not? she asked.
In the Triangle, the Carrboro Police Departments 24 patrol officers, three community service officers and two school resource officers will be equipped with a Naloxone kit by July.
The Hillsborough Police Department also says that all of its 28 sworn employees, including 17 patrol officers, will begin training on Naloxone.
The hands-on training is provided in part by the states Harm Reduction Coalition, a statewide public health and drug policy reform organization based in Durham that trains law officers in the use of Naloxone.