On a daily basis, law enforcement personnel are the first to arrive at the scene of a medical emergency. Many of these patients are suffering opioid overdose emergencies and require immediate assistance. Unfortunately, an average of 91 people per day nationwide become fatal statistics from prescription opioid overdose because they did not receive care during critical moments.
As acknowledged by the Center for Disease Control in a Tuesday, March 15, 2016, press release, there is an “epidemic of overdose deaths” related to prescription opioid overdose. The statement reported the alarming rate of prescription and sales of these products quadrupled since 1999, and assisted in the demise of our population.
Heroin, derived from the opium poppy flower, is a derivative of a true narcotic substance; it chemically induces an analgesic, euphoric sensation, and is highly addictive. Sadly, many patients who legitimately receive prescription opioid medication for chronic pain, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone, become addicted; when the script runs out, they may turn to illegally-obtained drugs like heroin and fentanyl to attain the same or similar feelings of pain relief and intoxication. The trouble is they are not controlled; product quality of illegally-obtained drugs is not guaranteed and risky.
As the result of eight overdoses, which included one death, occurring within a 72-hour time frame in late April, 2017, in the Santa Clarita Valley area, Narcotics Bureau detectives conducted four separate investigation operations. The objective to locate the drug source and stop the devastation culminated in the arrest of six persons, and the location of approximately 20 ounces of heroin, $10,000 in cash, and two cars with hidden traps to conceal the narcotics. One package of heroin was laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid administered in surgical settings by medical professionals for the purpose of sedation.
During a press conference at the Hall of Justice on Thursday, June 15, 2017, Sheriff Jim McDonnell addressed a grave concern for the deadly wave of overdoses sweeping across Los Angeles County, specifically focusing on those from misuse of opioids and heroin. In an effort to combat the number of fatal statistics and increase chances of survival in cases of suspected overdose emergencies, Sheriff McDonnell announced a multi-faceted approach. Teams, not just for enforcement efforts, but to address drug prevention, intervention and rehabilitation, were formed to take action in an integrated approach to saving lives.
“We need to understand what is driving the addictions,” said Sheriff McDonnell, “and equip ourselves with the knowledge and the means, to prevent the opioid and heroin epidemic which has devastated the northeast and parts of the midwest from taking root in L.A. County.”
The newest, landmark portion of the effort to reduce opioid overdose emergencies is the pilot program of issuing the anti-opioid medication, naloxone, to field deputies. The product, known by the brand name Narcan®, comes in a four-milligram nasal spray which blocks or reverses the effects of opioid medication. By having a small, single-dose spray readily available, first-responding deputies are further empowered to aid in lifesaving efforts by deploying this product.
More than 1,200 doses of Narcan® will be issued to deputy personnel assigned to Crescenta Valley, East Los Angeles and Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Stations, and Community Colleges and Parks Bureaus, as part of the intervention pilot program. Through partnership with Safe Med LA, a consortium of public health, government and law enforcement partners dedicated to a coordinated and multipronged approach of addressing prescription drug abuse, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was awarded a grand for an additional 5,000 doses. The doses will provide nearly every deputy working in the field one atomizer, and potentially rescue as many opioid overdose patients.
The implementation of Narcan® deployment has its roots in the personal life of our own Commander Judy Gerhardt. It was only six months ago she lost her nephew, Maxwell “Macky” Baker, to a heroin overdose. He was only 23 years old and just getting to the good part of youth; he had a job and a girlfriend, and was continuing his studies at a notable university in Massachusetts. Despite having all the benefits of growing up in an affectionate family as the son of a physician and with relatives in law enforcement, Macky had a heroin addiction since he was 15 years old. His dependence began with the consumption of prescribed opioids and quickly progressed. At 22 years of age, Macky sought help and, after much dedication, weaned himself from the deadly narcotic. He attended college, earned an associate of arts degree and was on his way to wonderful things…until an injurious car accident led him to require surgery for a broken hand and pain medication.