Isn’t overdose reversal the responsibility of emergency medical services?

Ideally, each opioid overdose victim can receive timely attention from emergency medical responders, just like the entire range of other accidents during which law enforcement officers routinely step up to provide first aid, including instances of motor vehicle accidents and heart attacks. In most situations, during overdose events law enforcement officers work in coordination with other first responders. Depending on the design of emergency services in the jurisdiction and the geographical setting, law enforcement officers may be in the position to save lives by providing the initial emergency assistance. Any follow-up assistance, including medical transport (or refusals of medical attention) are typically handled by emergency medical responders.

Even when emergency medical responders are already present on the scene, those responders may request assistance from law enforcement officers. This may include providing direct first aid, securing the scene, or other types of support. When setting up and executing a law enforcement overdose rescue program, it is important for all three branches of the emergency response system (police, fire, and EMS) to collaborate at the scene of an overdose. Therefore, it is worthwhile to obtain buy-in from the EMS and fire service to plan for how care of the victim will flow during an overdose response.

The way law enforcement conducts themselves during overdose response events is critical to community perceptions of—and partnership with—law enforcement. Officers who are professional and create a culture of trust between first responders and members of the public maximize the chances bystanders will call 9-1-1 during overdose events. Basic outreach at the scene can help educate families, friends, and other bystanders to be vigilant for signs and symptoms of overdose, since many victims experience more than one such event over their lifetime. Additional outreach, including referral to treatment and community overdose prevention programs may be appropriate.