EMS and Law Enforcement Work Together to Reduce Overdose Deaths
By James Winslow and Robert Childs
We all choose prehospital medicine to help people during their time of greatest need. People are perhaps in their time of greatest need when they have overdosed on narcotics. This country, and especially rural areas, is in the grip of a major epidemic of narcotic abuse, specifically from opiates or opioids. More Americans now die from drug overdoses than car accidents or firearms.
The public servants in the best position to help the victims of overdoses are EMS, fire and law enforcement personnel.
In 2013 North Carolina passed a law that allows people, including law enforcement to administer naloxone to the victims of overdose. This law basically states that if a person calls 911 for help during an overdose then neither the caller nor the patient can be prosecuted for certain offenses. The law also greatly limits the liability of bystanders or law enforcement officers who give naloxone to the victims of overdose. By encouraging people to call 911, hopefully more lives will be saved because people will be less scared to seek medical assistance.
North Carolina law enforcement and EMS agencies have formed very strong partnerships to increase patient access to naloxone and reduce mortality from overdoses. In North Carolina, EMS is responsible for training and overseeing law enforcement use of naloxone. Law enforcement agencies must operate under protocols, procedures and training approved by EMS.
Since the inception of the naloxone and law enforcement program, 66 law enforcement agencies have collaborated with EMS agencies so that their officers can carry naloxone. Law enforcement agencies have tallied more than 60 reversals since that time. Greenville, North Carolina police had four reversals in 24 hours in March of 2015. The Winston-Salem Police Department has carried out seven reversals in eight months. Fayetteville Police Department has had the most overdose rescues out of any law enforcement department in the state totaling 15 saves since their officers started to carry naloxone.
It is important to equip law enforcement officers with naloxone because in some situations law enforcement may be able to assist an overdose patient before EMS can. For instance, EMS are often bound by policy to wait before entering the scene of an overdose until law enforcement has secured it. During a life-threatening situation when seconds count and prolonging care increases a patient’s risk for brain damage or respiratory failure, law enforcement can immediately administer naloxone to overdose patients. It’s also possible for law enforcement to arrive at an overdose scene before EMS. Additionally, it is very likely for law enforcement officers to encounter overdose victims even without a 911 call made due to the nature of their work.
Addiction is a disease and patients with this disease need assistance. People who are addicted to opiates/opioids cannot get treatment or help if they have died from an overdose. Anyone who can administer naloxone to victims of an overdose and save a life should feel very lucky and grateful that they can provide life-saving treatment.
Many lives have been saved because of the cooperation between law enforcement and EMS. The collaboration in the naloxone program has also helped improve the overall working relationship between EMS and law enforcement. Most importantly, the program has also given many patients a second chance and spared their families the heartbreak of losing a loved one.
Additional resources can be found at http://www.nchrc.org/law-enforcement/us-law-enforcement-who-carry-naloxone/.
Dr. Winslow graduated from Emergency Medicine residency from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 and completed his EMS Fellowship in 2003. He has worked at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem for the past 11 years. He was appointed as the Medical Director of the NC Office of EMS in 2011. This document contains all protocol, procedures, and policies for all EMS agencies in North Carolina.Robert Childs, MPH has been North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition’s (NCHRC) Executive Director since 2009 and oversees the agency’s operations and innovation. Childs specializes in HIV and hepatitis prevention, harm reduction, drug policy reform, law enforcement occupational safety and drug overdose response, and community based overdose prevention utilizing naloxone. He previously worked in New York City as Positive Health Project’s Program Director, as well as in New Hampshire and Oregon as a social worker, health educator and farmer.
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