The Carrboro Police Department has become the first in North Carolina to prevent a drug overdose death with an antidote drug now being used by a handful of law enforcement agencies across the state.
A Carrboro officer was the first to arrive last week at a home off Old Fayetteville Road where a man in his early 30s had overdosed on heroin, according to police spokesman Capt. Chris Atack. The officer, Teresa Kernodle, administered naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs, reversing the overdose until paramedics arrived and took the man to the hospital.
All Carrboro officers were trained in using naloxone and have been carrying it since October, Atack said. This was the first time an officer has had call to use it.
It’s also the first time a police officer has used the drug to reverse an overdose in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, a public health and drug policy organization based in Durham that promotes and tracks the use of naloxone by law enforcement agencies.
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“That officer doing that probably helped the person avoid brain damage, which is pretty awesome,” said Robert Childs, the coalition’s executive director.
Paramedics have carried naloxone (pronounced Na-LOX-own) in their ambulances for decades. But police officers and firefighters are often the first to arrive at the scene of an overdose, and proponents say it makes sense that they, too, have the drug and know how to use it.
The use of naloxone by police and firefighters was made possible by a change in state law in 2013 that broadened who could use the drug. The law, designed to allow heroin and pain-pill users and their friends and family to use naloxone in emergencies, cleared up legal questions about whether first responders could also use the drug.
So far, 14 law enforcement agencies in North Carolina, including the State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement, have distributed naloxone to officers or plan to in coming months, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition.
Since August 2013, the coalition also has distributed more than 6,000 naloxone kits to laypeople who are likely to come in contact with drug users, and 251 people have reported using them to reverse an overdose, Childs said.
The wider use of naloxone is part of an effort to counter a spike in drug overdoses in North Carolina. The number of accidental drug overdose deaths in the state has more than quadrupled since 1999, to 992 in 2013, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.