Until now, when St. Louis County Police Officer Kevin Magnan responded to an opiate overdose call there wasn’t much he could do except wait for the paramedics to arrive.
“You’re seeing a body that’s barely moving. Sometimes their eyes are open sometimes they’re not. And you’re not really sure what to do,” said Magnan, who works as a patrol officer in Jennings. “We get there and make sure the scene is secured and then let EMS come in. But that window of us just kind of being able to do nothing but trying to position the body right and try to make sure the person at least has room to breathe and the paramedics can come in quickly is the best we could do before now.”
Magnan and about thirty other St. Louis County police officers learned how to administer the heroin antidote Narcan Thursday. He and his fellow trainees have been tasked with passing that training — and their precincts' new Narcan kits — on to the rest of the officers in their precincts.
Officials with the St. Louis County Police Department said they expect all officers to be trained to administer the Narcan nasal spray by the end of next week. Officers will check the antidote kit out of their precinct when they go on duty and store it in the glove compartment of their patrol cars.
“Heroin is an insidious drug. Heroin is a drug that we fight every day in a criminal nature, but I don’t think we have the ability to walk away from those people, those individuals who are in that health crisis because of that overdose, and by equipping these police officers with Narcan … we’re going to save lives,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said Thursday before the department held its first Narcan training.
Narcan, also called naloxone, can save the life of someone overdosing on heroin or other opiates by blocking the opiate receptors in the brain. Because opiates are narcotics, an overdose slows breathing down until the heart stops and the person dies. That’s why administering the antidote quickly increases the chance of survival.
“While two or three minutes may not seem like a lot, it is when you’re talking about someone who’s not breathing or who’s not breathing effectively that two or three minutes can truly mean the difference between life and death,” said Barnes Jewish emergency physician David Tan, who helped lead the Narcan training.
According to St. Louis County Detective Casey Lambert, who heads up the county police department’s heroin initiative, county police officers often arrive on scene before paramedics.
“What this Narcan program really aims to do is save those overdoses where they’re unconscious but they’re not breathing or they’re not breathing very well, yet they still have a pulse. These are the people that we can save and give them another chance at addiction treatment,” said Tan, who also serves as the medical director for the St. Charles County and Clayton police departments.
A 2014 Missouri law allows police officers to carry the heroin antidote. St. Charles County police adopted Narcan last November and Clayton has also been carrying the antidote for some time. Wentzville Police announced Wednesday that they would also begin carrying the drug.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson confirmed Thursday that there is no plan for city officers to carry Narcan.
“We have a tremendous fire service, a tremendous EMS service that a lot of times responds more quickly than police officers. So I know that the EMS carries Narcan or something similar. We’re going to rely on that,” Dotson said.
Asked why it took St. Louis County a year and a half to put Narcan in the hands of its officers, county officials said it took time to work out logistics.
“Just last November St. Charles had it. They have a department of about 300 officers. We have a department of nearly a thousand officers so it takes more time for us to become equipped with it,” St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said. “Actually I think we’re very timely and we’re actually leading this effort.”
Chief Belmar said the police department has been talking to the health department about Narcan for some time. “We were really looking at that enabling legislation to be honest with you to make sure we were in a position to do that. Then we were in a position to figure out how we want to administer this. So it takes a while to roll this out.”
Officials said the initial batch of nasal spray Narcan cost St. Louis County $57 per dose, for a total cost of $12,000. Stenger said the money for the program came from the health department.
Public access to Narcan
For the second year in a row the Missouri House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow members of the public to purchase and administer the antidote to an opiate overdose.
But emergency physician David Tan said it will still be useful for officers to carry Narcan even if the bill becomes law.
“I don’t anticipate that everyone will take advantage of the over-the-counter program,” said Tan. “There is an expense associated with it, as you heard earlier upwards of $40-$50 per dose, and I’m not so sure that people will be able to buy that on insurance.”
“One thing that I hope accompanies any legislation making Narcan available over the counter is an educational program for families to know even if you have this you still have to call 911, you still have to get medically evaluated because it can still be a life-threatening condition even if you give the antidote,” Tan added.
Tan said anyone who administers Narcan also needs to know that if someone experiencing an overdose doesn’t have a pulse it’s more important to start chest compressions and call 911.
“If there’s no pulse then they’re beyond the help of Narcan at that time,” Tan said.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.