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SLO County law enforcement agencies look to provide officers with drug to prevent opioid overdoses

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If there's a war against America's opioid addiction crisis, then naloxone, commonly referred to by its commercial name Narcan, is one of the more powerful weapons in that fight.

LIFE-SAVING SPRAY Law enforcement agencies across SLO County want to equip officers with Narcan, a drug that counters the effects of opioid overdoses. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAPT PHARMA
  • Photo Courtesy Of Adapt Pharma
  • LIFE-SAVING SPRAY Law enforcement agencies across SLO County want to equip officers with Narcan, a drug that counters the effects of opioid overdoses.

The potentially life-saving properties of the drug, a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids like heroin and fentanyl, has become so well known that even users trapped in the cycle of addiction to know its reputation.

"[Officers] have made traffic stops of long-term users with signed letters giving permission for them to use Narcan if they are found overdosing," Pismo Beach Police Department Cmdr. Tom Portz told New Times.

Pismo Beach is one of eight law enforcement agencies in SLO County either seriously considering or actively pursuing the ability to equip officers with naloxone, allowing them to treat opioid overdoses in the field instead of waiting for firefighters or emergency medical services.

"They want to be proactive and save lives," said Vince Pierucci, director for the SLO County Public Health Agency's Emergency Medical Services Division. "I think law enforcement really wants to step up."

In order to get naloxone into the hands of officers, law enforcement agencies in SLO County need to get approval from Pierucci's department. He said the process requires the agencies to submit detailed applications and demonstrate that they have developed specific policies and robust specialized training programs to teach officers how to administer the drug, among other requirements.

WHOSE GOT IT? Click on the icon to see if your local police department plans to equip officers with Naloxone.

Some agencies are further along than others. The SLO County Sheriff's Office already got approval from the county, developed its policies, and trained its deputies. In April, the office distributed naloxone kits to all of its patrol deputies, as well as its narcotics task force, gang unit, and civil division. The SLO Police Department is also close to getting naloxone into the hands of its officers. Capt. Chris Staley said the department already submitted its application to the county for approval.

"We anticipate approval in the next couple of weeks and will begin training all of our officers on how to utilize naloxone," he told New Times in an April 27 email. "We hope to have everyone complete the training and have naloxone deployed with all of our officers by June."

The Morro Bay and Atascadero police departments are also getting closer to implementing their naloxone programs. Both submitted applications to the county. The Morro Bay Police Department hopes to be able to get its officers trained and out on the streets with kits in the next few months, while Atascadero Police Sgt. Jason Carr said his department tentatively scheduled naloxone deployment for July 1.

"We are encountering [overdoses] a lot more frequently than we would like," Carr said. "This will give [officers] the ability to deploy that treatment when they arrive on the scene save somebody's life."

The Cal Poly Police Department also submitted an application and plans to begin equipping its officers with naloxone by September.

Other local departments have yet to begin officially seeking a green light from the county but are still considering doing so. Portz said Pismo was exploring how it would get officers trained and certified, and pick which types of naloxone kits it would use, all critical elements necessary in an application to the county. Portz said it was too early in the process to set a date for when the drug might actually be in the hands of officers. Cuesta College's police department is also establishing policies and training and plans to provide the drug to its officers in 2019.

Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters said his department is reviewing and revising its policies to make sure they are in compliance with the county's requirements. Peters said that while his officers were not seeing an above average rate of overdoses, it was still important to provide them with the drug.

"One is one too many," Peters said. "To be able to have those tools in the hands of our officers, that's what we're focused on."

Arroyo Grande Police Chief Beau Pryor said he was open to the idea of providing officers with naloxone, but said the department would need more information on what kind of training would be necessary, how the drug would be administered, and how it would be paid for, before making a decision to move forward.

While Arroyo Grande is on the fence, the only true holdout in the county is the Paso Robles Police Department. In an email response to questions from New Times, incoming chief Ty Lewis said the department does not issue Narcan to officers and does not have any immediate plans to do so.

"We do not currently plan to deploy Narcan to our police officers," Lewis said.

Making naloxone widely available in the county is one of the major goals of the SLO County Opioid Safety Coalition. Today, naloxone is available to the public at a number of locations, including the SLO Bangers Syringe Exchange, as well as eight pharmacies in SLO, Nipomo, Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles, Cayucos, and Atascadero.

Making naloxone easier to find may be saving lives in SLO County. According to data collected by the coalition, overdose deaths decreased from a high of 37 in 2016, to 22 in 2017, the first decrease since 2012.

"Our naloxone team has done a phenomenal job of educating the community and making it available," coalition coordinator Jenn Rhoads said. "This is really something that should be in everybody's first aid kit." Δ

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com.

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