After years of discussion and months of planning, 90 police officers at the Lafayette Police Department now carry naloxone, a medication that can essentially stop the effects of an opiate overdose caused by use of heroin or painkillers. Because police officers are often first on the scene in an emergency, and overdose is very often the cause of emergency, more lives will be saved now that they have this powerful medication at their disposal.
Lafayette Police Department is one of the last in the area to carry naloxone as a matter of course. They join Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office and West Lafayette Police Department, both of which implemented the use of naloxone back in 2015.
The change, though, may not last forever. Currently, rates of opiate overdose are at an all-time high in Lafayette and across the state due to a rise in fentanyl and carfentanil, synthetic opiates that are incredibly potent and often added to heroin and other street drugs. Users often purchase their drug of choice without realizing that it is laced with these substances and end up overdosing before they realize what is happening. The hope is that this will not always be the case.
Chief Patrick Flannelly is with the Lafayette Police Department. He said: “Hopefully it’s not a permanent thing. Hopefully it’s something that, as a nation, we can work through.”
Part of the reason that it has taken so long to put naloxone into patrol cars at LPD is because some in the department feel that their primary responsibility is public safety, not public health. Some in the department say that officers may be unduly distracted by administering treatment to someone on the scene and not attend to protecting the public, which is their principal objective.
Says Chief Flannelly: “Our philosophy is still that when we respond to the scene, our primary responsibility is law enforcement and safety. [Naloxone is] there if we need it, but we still prefer to have EMS treat patients whenever possible so we can maintain the primary role of safety and security for the scene.”
As important as it is to maintain a focus on public safety, there are times when the call is primarily an overdose call and the administration of naloxone does not take long. In fact, it is relatively easy to administer with a small amount of advance training, and if an ambulance does not arrive in time, then a police officer can quickly and easily save a life.
Due in part to the fact that overdose rates are continually on the rise in Lafayette and across Louisiana, the emergency response services have all been heavily burdened. For example, the number of runs by the Tippecanoe Emergency Ambulance Service (TEAS) are expected to increase by 8 percent over last year. At the time of the report, the number of calls received due to heroin use increased by 49 percent in one year with 143 calls in 2016 jumping to 213 calls in 2017 so far.
Though TEAS reports that they are able to respond to calls within seven minutes, the national average, they point out that police officers are often able to get there much quicker than they can.
Darrell Clase is the director at TEAS. He says: “They’re out and about. They’ve got people assigned to different districts and they can get to that scene pretty quickly.”
It is important to note, too, that it is not just the public who are protected when police officers carry naloxone. In many cases, they are able to save their own lives. Rates of overdose among law enforcement officers responding to a narcotics call have increased significantly in recent years as more and more street drugs are laced with fentanyl and carfentanil – a drug that can trigger overdose in very small amounts with minimal contact. Now that the Lafayette Police Department has naloxone on hand, they can intervene immediately if a fellow officer is exposed to the deadly drug.
What do you think? Do you think that police officers should carry naloxone, or do you believe that medical care should be the domain of emergency medical teams only?