Dalton police to begin carrying opioid overdose antidote
DALTON — As soon as next week, the Dalton Police Department will have the means to tackle potential overdoses head-on.
The state Department of Public Health has approved the local department's request for officers to carry opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
Dalton police officers were trained in administering naloxone earlier this spring as part of their required annual training. They'll also receive ongoing naloxone training annually.
"[Naloxone is] one of the easiest things to administer," said Police Chief Jeffrey Coe.
The chief originally sought permission for officers to carry intranasal naloxone in March. He re-sent the application in mid-May to make sure officials had received it.
It makes sense for Dalton police officers to carry naloxone in their cruisers, as they respond to most medical calls, he said. Coe also plans to keep naloxone in the booking area of the police station.
In line with a nationwide epidemic, opioid deaths have been rising across the state. Berkshire County, which had 35 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016, up from 33 in 2015 and 29 in 2014, according to the health department.
The department will purchase 24 4-milligram doses of naloxone using drug-seizure funds. The cost totals $480, not including shipping, Coe said.
He plans to order the drug as soon as he receives an invoice from the state Office of Pharmacy Services. Naloxone gets two-day shipping.
The department should receive the naloxone within a week or two, he said.
Updated statewide treatment protocols implemented last December permit first responders to administer up to 4 milligrams of naloxone per dose. The previous range of 0.4 mg to 2 mg per dose had been in place since 2012. The change was in response to increasingly potent opioids.
A growing number of Berkshire County first responders have begun carrying naloxone. North Adams police and fire departments began carrying naloxone in April 2016, and at least seven doses were administered in the first week.
Last September, Pittsfield firefighters administered the department's first dose of naloxone two days after receiving the original supply.
Although his staff is on board with the program, Coe understands the apprehension some originally felt toward carrying the drug.
"If police officers wanted to become EMTs, they'd become EMTs and not police officers," he said.
He compared officers carrying naloxone in their vehicles to when officers first began to carry defibrillators — devices used to treat irregular heartbeats.
Some officers initially were wary of that change, but they accepted it after realizing how effective defibrillators were, he said.
"Anyone who was at first apprehensive [about carrying naloxone] understands the need," he said. After department personnel learned that naloxone doesn't cause adverse reactions when given to those who aren't overdosing, they became more comfortable with the idea of administering it in a first responder capacity, he said.
Officers will have to remove the naloxone from their vehicles at the end of their shifts to prevent exposure to extreme temperatures that can impact the efficacy of the drug, he said.
"It's certainly going to be a learning curve and a hurdle," he said.
The department will provide a quarterly report on its naloxone supply — if it's been used, and if so, how much — to Daniel Doyle, chief of staff at Berkshire Medical Center.
The department needs to carry naloxone, given the severity of the opioid epidemic, Doyle said.
"You can't help people change their lives if they're dead," he said.
Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.
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