A few days after Trevor Nelson died of a heroin overdose at age 28, his younger brother Brett created an online petition to urge police departments and other law enforcement agencies to equip their officers with naloxone, a drug that counters the deadly effects of opioid overdoses.
Brett Nelson of Raleigh posted the petition to help “drive awareness” about the epidemic; the number of people who died of overdoses of heroin and other opioid drugs in North Carolina has exploded, from 150 in 1999 to 1,110 last year, according to the state Division of Public Health. Getting naloxone into the hands of law officers would be one way to save more lives, Nelson said.
“This is sort of the middle ground to get people really behind it,” he said about the petition. “You can’t stop heroin. It’s kind of too late for that.”
Nelson posted the petition Dec. 6, five days after his brother’s death. The response was immediate.
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“It went crazy,” he said. “It had like, 500 signatures in 12 hours. There were signatures from all over the world: New Zealand, the U.K. I would have never expected it. There were 300 comments from people from all over the world who wanted to share their story.”
The petition, which doesn’t address any particular police department or sheriff’s agency, had about 1,550 signatures as of Tuesday.
Trevor Nelson had struggled with a heroin addiction for nearly a decade. He grew up in Fuquay-Varina, where he was a multi-sport athlete who loved to swim and played basketball, baseball and soccer. After high school, he went to N.C. State University, where he earned a degree in business administration. He returned to the Triangle late last summer after spending nearly a year in Costa Rica teaching English to middle schoolers and adults.
“He was not a low-life junkie,” Brett Nelson said of his only sibling. “He grew up in a suburban home. He made straight A’s. Over 400 people came to his funeral.”
Trevor Nelson died of a heroin overdose on the morning of Dec. 1 after spending the night on a friend’s couch in Fuquay-Varina. Brett Nelson said he’s not sure if paramedics or the police were the first to arrive when his brother started showing signs of an overdose. But he thinks it did not matter because his brother was using heroin that had been laced with Fentanyl, a deadly drug exponentially more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl was the subject of a health alert by the state Department of Health and Human Services in 2014 after nearly a dozen people died of overdoses.
“There was nothing that could have saved him,” Nelson said. “Technically he did not overdose; he was poisoned.”
Police and emergency medical workers have responded to seven opioid drug overdoses in Fuquay-Varina since Nov. 30, said town spokeswoman Susan Weis. Two of the victims died, Weis said.
“We are evaluating the need for providing our officers with Narcan,” Weis said in an email to The News & Observer.
Naloxone, which is often referred to by the brand name Narcan, became available to the public in 2013 after the passage of the so-called 911 Good Samaritan law by the General Assembly. The law allows people to seek medical help for an overdose by offering limited immunity for some drug, alcohol, and probation or parole violations. It also grants civil and criminal immunity to anyone who administers naloxone in good faith and allows community-based organizations to distribute naloxone through a special prescription from a medical provider.
More than 5,000 people have been saved from overdoses because of the availability of naloxone since the law went into effect, according to the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, an organization dedicated to reducing drug overdose deaths by offering naloxone and overdose prevention training to community members, including law enforcement.
The coalition provided training to the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, which started equipping deputies with naloxone in September. Of the 378 sworn deputies in Wake, 150 are now carrying naloxone, said spokesman John Dee Jones.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies with 136 law agencies across the state are equipped with naloxone, said Tessie Castillo, a NCHRC spokeswoman. In the Triangle, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, along with police departments in Hillsborough, Carrboro and Clayton carry the overdose antidote or soon will.
Castillo says that may change with area law departments set to follow the Wake sheriff’s office.
“For awhile, since no one was doing it, no one wanted to do it,” she said. “Since the Wake County Sheriff’s Office started in September, we started receiving calls from other departments,” including police departments in Raleigh, Apex and Creedmoor.
Castillo said there are several reasons police departments have been reluctant to participate in the program, especially the larger agencies in the state’s urban regions.
“With the larger departments, financing is an issue,” she said. “The most common response is, ‘We have a very fast EMS system in the Triangle that gets to the scene prior to law enforcement arriving.’ ”
But Castillo said when the coalition reviewed statewide data, the largest number of overdose reversals by police were taking place in larger urban areas like Fayetteville, Wilmington and Greenville.
“The EMS system is fast,” she said, “but police are faster.”