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When Constables Kevin Bohn, Richard Calabrese and Thomas Lillagore responded to a well-being check in New Jersey's Cinnaminson Township, they found an unconscious adult male lying on his back, the apparent victim of a heroin overdose. Since the residence was on the border between Cinnaminson and nearby Riverton Township, police officers from Riverton arrived as well to renter assistance. Along with rescue breathing, the officers had another medical tool at their disposal. Having completed training in the use of naloxone (brand name Narcan) just days before, Riverton patrolman Jeff Walker administered the drug which enablde the victim to awaken and begin breathing on his own. He was then stabilized and taken to hospital by paramedics.
"With the ongoing heroin epidemic Narcan is invaluable,” Riverton Borough Police Chief John Shaw said in an interview with local edia. “As a responding officer it is always valuable to have additional tools to utilize to perform our jobs at the highest level possible. The team work that was demonstrated by the Cinnaminson and Riverton Police officers on scene saved the life of this individual. I’ve always respected the mutual cooperation of our local police departments and this is a fine example of that.”
Within a few hours of this first incident, police in nearby Riverside were called to a second incident involving a man who was deemed to have overdosed on heroin. Narcan helped revive him as well and he was taken to hospital for observation. Riverside Police Capt. William Eliason praised the officers who intervened. He told local media, “The mission of our officers is to help the public in any way possible and is our highest priority. Police throughout the State of New Jersey have seen a dramatic rise in drug overdose deaths, and Riverside has not been spared. The Narcan program will undoubtedly save lives. It is the hope of the community and the Riverside Police Department that people suffering from any type of drug or alcohol addiction seek help, and for bystanders to know that they will not be charged with any type of criminal offense for calling 9-1-1 for assistance for any type of possible drug overdose they witness."
First developed in the 1960s, naloxone is an opioid antagonist which can quickly reverse the effects of a heroin or morphine overdose. Marketed under brand names such as Narcan, Nalone, and Narcanti, naloxone in included on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medications and is often included in emergency overdose response kits provided to heroin addicts. Center for Disease Control statistics estimate that as many as 10,000 deaths have been prevented in the Unites States alone. As well, despite requiring a prescription in most places, naloxone education programs are becoming a regular part of paramedic and police training in many U.S. as well as in major cities in Canada, including Toronto. While other opioid antagonists such as naltrexone are used for helping addicts manage their long-term addictions, naloxone remains the drug of choice in emergency overdoses.
Despite increasing use of naloxone by police and paramedics, the U.S. government has been slow to recommend nationwide implementation of naloxone training programs for police. State legislation can also prevent police officers from carrying naloxone or discourage witnesses from reporting heroin overdoses due to fear of arrest. In New Jersey, the Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act was passed last year to permit police use of naloxone and also providing immunity for overdose victims and witnesses. Governor Chris Christie has promised that law enforcement agencies in all New Jersey counties would receive training.
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