How Naloxone Can Help Law Enforcement Agencies Counter Opioid Overdoses

By Tara Kunkel, BJA Visiting Fellow and Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts

When Joseph Coronato became Ocean County’s (NJ) prosecutor in March 2013, he saw eight opioid overdose fatalities in just seven days. All the victims were 28 years old or younger. Coronato began researching ways to abate the problem and found law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts that had implemented naloxone programs. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a potentially lifesaving drug that can effectively restore breathing to a victim in the midst of a heroin or other opioid overdose. Because local police officers are often the first to arrive on the scene of these overdoses, they play a critical role in preventing overdose incidents from becoming fatalities by administering naloxone. Coronato resolved to equip Ocean County patrol officers with naloxone, using a policy modeled off those in Massachusetts.

In April 2014, Ocean County started a pilot program. The program was funded with Coronato’s forfeiture money because he felt “there is no better use of recovered drug money than saving a drug addict’s life.”

In June 2014, New Jersey adopted a statewide naloxone program and has since trained 496 law enforcement agencies in naloxone administration, and currently over 488 law enforcement agencies are carrying naloxone. In just the first three months of 2015, law enforcement agencies in New Jersey documented 388 naloxone deployments.1 

New Jersey’s statewide adoption of naloxone did not come without challenges, which included resistance from police officers and funding considerations. But they’ve also learned the importance of creating a network between local leaders and sharing information about naloxone use with the communities they protect. “We are working to change the face of addiction,” stated Sgt. Adam Polhemus of the New Jersey State Police. “We see the sheer extent of the opioid problem and the amount of individuals that are opioid-dependent. We want people to see that these addicts come from all races, religions, and means and need intervention to rid themselves of the disease.”

New Jersey’s experience reflects opioid overdose trends in many states across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses claim 120 American lives daily.2 Each day another 6,748 individuals are treated in emergency departments for the misuse or abuse of drugs.3 The opioid overdose crisis touches – and devastates – the lives of Americans from every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life.

In October 2014, the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the release of the Department of Justice’s Law Enforcement Naloxone Toolkit, remarking that, “expanding the availability of naloxone has the potential to save the lives, families, and futures of countless people across the nation.” The online toolkit is a one-stop clearinghouse of information and resources for state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies interested in establishing a naloxone program. The toolkit includes over 80 resources from 30 contributing law enforcement and public health agencies. The Law Enforcement Naloxone Toolkit was developed following the U.S. Attorney General’s law enforcement and naloxone expert advisory panel held on July 31, 2014. The advisory panel included leaders from the law enforcement and public health community, academia, and federal government, and provided guidance and input on the content included in the toolkit.

The toolkit includes sample data collection forms, standard operating procedures, law enforcement training guides, community outreach materials, and memoranda of agreement – all of which have been used in other law enforcement agencies and can be downloaded by agencies and customized for re-use. Technical assistance is available, upon request, to assist law enforcement agencies in implementing or enhancing a naloxone program. For rural areas interested in adopting naloxone, the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy recently released the Rural Opioid Overdose Reversal Grant Program. The one year program will fund efforts that will focus on preventing opioid overdose in rural areas. The deadline to apply is June 8, 2015. For more information on this funding opportunities, please click here. Additional funding opportunities are included in the toolkit.

For New Jersey, its work on abating opioid use doesn’t end there. As New Jersey’s naloxone program matures, New Jersey’s Drug Monitoring Initiative will collect and analyze reports from each administration of naloxone and will use this data to design effective treatment and prevention programs. The state is also considering strategies to coordinate long-term treatment for opioid addicts to break the cycle of addiction and stem the opioid epidemic.

To access the free Department of Justice’s Law Enforcement Naloxone Toolkit, visit www.bja.gov/naloxone. Users with specific questions not answered in the toolkit or who would like to request technical assistance can click on the “Need Assistance or Have a Question?” button on www.bja.gov/naloxone and complete the form.

 

1New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center. Statewide Naloxone Deployments (March, 2015)

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Vital Statistics System mortality data. (2015) Available from URL: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/deaths.htm

3Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits. The DAWN Report. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2013. Available from URL: http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/2k13/DAWN127/sr127-DAWN-highlights.htm