Saving the life of an opioid overdose victim costs about $60.
The investment, and training, could be an impediment within tight budgets, so state officials are helping covering the expense to provide a lifeline.
The Guilderland Police Department was the first law enforcement agency statewide to be awarded Community Overdose Prevention (COP) program funding. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman kicked off the first round of awards at Guilderland Town Hall on Tuesday, May 6. The department received $2,100 to fully reimburse equipping and training 35 officers to use naloxone kits.
More than 2,000 state residents died in 2011 from opioid overdoses, according to Schneiderman, which was more than double the amount of such deaths in 2004.
“I’m very pleased to be here in Guilderland to talk about a life saving public health initiative that begins right here,” Schneiderman said. “I commend Guilderland to be the first community in the state of New York to take advantage of our new Community Overdose Prevention program.”
More than 100 law enforcement agencies have already applied for the first round of reimbursements available to nearly 30 counties, which will provide funds for more than 1,070 naloxone kits. The COP program uses criminal and civil forfeiture funds to purchase kits, with more than $5 million earmarked for it. The drug has a shelf life of two years.
The kit includes a zip pouch containing two prefilled syringes of naloxone, two atomizers for nasal administration, sterile gloves and a booklet on using the drug. Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, allows an overdose victim to start breathing again. This allows for time to get victims to a hospital for treatment.
“Naloxone is an amazing drug that saves lives,” Schneiderman said. “This is a very, very important tool for law enforcement.”
Schneiderman said the Hudson River Valley area has the highest per-capita hospital admission rate for heroin overdoses in the state.
“Heroin knows no boundaries. It’s in our cities, the countryside and in the suburbs,” Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor said. “It is most definitely here in Guilderland and it’s not just heroin.”
Town Supervisor Ken Runion said Guilderland is not immune to drug related problems. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said over the last 16 months in Guilderland there were 26 heroin overdoses resulting in seven deaths.
“It’s not a question of when [an overdose] is going to happen again — it’s what we can do to prevent someone from dying,” McCoy said. “We have this problem in our community.”
Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk said she recently held a forum on heroin following the urging of a mother whose 19-year-old daughter died of a heroin overdose four months after she first used it. Tkaczyk said naloxone must be in the hands of first responders and police.
“We need to make sure our kids stay away from this drug and all opioids,” Tkaczyk said. “We need stricter penalties to make sure people who bring this into our communities are going to jail.”
Schneiderman said the stigma formerly surrounding heroin seems to have disappeared.
“This is a different kind of epidemic than we have ever seen with this particular drug,” he said.
To the surprise of some local officials in attendance, Albany County ranks sixth out of all counties statewide for the amount of opioid hospitalizations per 1,000 residents, according to Schneiderman.
“We need to work together in a partnership to make a difference in the community to stop this heroin,” McCoy said, “to not be number six in the state of New York with 62 counties. It breaks my heart to think about that.”
Schneiderman said the state has approaching the heroin problem from all angles.
“We are dealing with an all levers approach … attacking every aspect of the problem,” he said. “Naloxone is an important part of that effort.”
Naloxone only used to be able to be given intravenously, which was difficult for police officers to administer it. The nasal spray method provided a more simple method.
Schneiderman also said even if the antidote is provided to someone who has not had an overdose there are no negative side effects. This allows officers to provide the drug even if there is no proof of an overdose, but it is suspected.
Lawlor said paramedics have carried naloxone for years, so having police officers administer it only makes sense.
“The quicker the response, the better the outcome,” she said.