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Police officers take on a bigger role in the fight against opioid deaths

What happens to your brain on opioids

More than half million people have died between 2000 and 2015 from opioids. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle individuals undergo once addicted to these drugs, we take a closer look at what happens to your
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More than half million people have died between 2000 and 2015 from opioids. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle individuals undergo once addicted to these drugs, we take a closer look at what happens to your

Last week, a Sacramento police officer used a new tool to help save a woman’s life.

She was lying in a house in Oak Park on a Monday afternoon. She was not breathing or responding, but she still had a pulse. The officer became the first in the department to use Narcan, the nasal spray that blocks the effect of opioid overdoses.

A Sacramento Fire Department crew then took over and took her to the hospital, along with a man who was still conscious but not coherent, said Police Department spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler.

Sacramento County officials hope police will play a bigger role in combating opioid overdoses like this one after receiving a grant from the California Department of Public Health last year. The grant supplies the county with 2,900 doses of naloxone, the drug found in Narcan. Those doses will be dispersed among eight law enforcement agencies in the county and two community groups that focus on drug use.

Sacramento Harm Reduction Services and the Safer Alternatives thru Networking & Education, groups that run syringe exchange programs, will receive the largest number of doses, or 320 and 317 two-dose kits, respectively.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department will get 300 of the two-dose kits, while county officials have allocated 260 kits for the Sacramento Police Department, the documents show. Other agencies participating in the program include the Citrus Heights, Folsom, Elk Grove and Galt police departments.

A 2013 change in state law allowed police officers and family members of opioid users to administer the drug without facing civil or criminal liability as long as they are trained to do so. The state’s N​aloxone Grant Program, approved in 2016, set aside $3 million to distribute opioid overdose kits to various counties.

The Sacramento County Public Health Advisory Board urged the county’s Board of Supervisors to approve an application for the state grant in a May 2017 letter, pointing to an incident in which more than 50 people overdosed and 12 died in the county after taking counterfeit drugs laced with fentanyl, an opioid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, works by both removing and blocking opioids from the parts of the brain that can cause people to stop breathing when they overdose, said Dr. Kevin Mackey, medical director for Sacramento Regional Fire Services. Mackey trained representatives from local law enforcement agencies to teach other officers how to use the naloxone medication, including the Sacramento Police Department.

There are currently few other drugs that both remove and block the effects of opioid overdoses, according to Mackey. Naloxone can work in a matter of minutes, and is already also carried in ambulances and engines of the Folsom, Cosumnes, Sacramento city, and Sacramento Metropolitan fire departments. Paramedics with each department administer the drug, Mackey said.

“Time is very important, so that’s why we put it in the hands of the officers,” Mackey said. “Often times they can beat fire personnel to a patient by a minute or two, which can be the difference of saving a life or not.”

California had 1,925 opioid overdose deaths in 2016, or 4.6 per every 100,000 residents, data from the state’s opioid overdose website show. The database tracks statewide opioid prescriptions, deaths and overdose hospitalizations.

Opioid-related deaths in Sacramento County were recorded 51 times, happening at a rate of 3.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016. In 2010, the rate was almost two times higher, the database shows.

County zip codes with the highest rates of opioid overdoses in 2016 include 95832, located south of Meadowview Road and along the Sacramento River, and 95838, which encompass the Del Paso Heights and Strawberry Manor neighborhoods.

Adults between the ages of 55 and 59 years old were the most at risk both statewide and in Sacramento County, according to the state database. Opioid users ages 60 to 64 and 50 to 54, as well as those between 25 and 29, also saw higher rates of opioid deaths both locally and statewide when compared to other age groups.

The Sacramento Police Department was the first in the county to receive the kits, and began training and equipping its officers with the medicine late last month, Chandler said. The department expects it will train all sworn personnel to use the medication and have each patrol officer equipped with the nasal spray by the end of June.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department also plans to distribute the naloxone kits among its rank-and-file members, and is currently selecting instructors to teach their deputies how to use the kits. Officer Jason Jimenez, a spokesman for the Elk Grove Police Department, said officers will begin training next month and will be able to check out the medication at the start of their shifts. The department also plans on having at least four of the kits out in the community at any given time.

Officers with the Roseville Police Department, in Placer County, started carrying Narcan last summer. The department bought its supply with money from the nonprofit California Healthcare Foundation.

Roseville police now carry medication they can use to treat people who have overdosed on opioid narcotics. Here they show how to use the life-saving tool.

In 2016, 14 people in Placer County died of opioid overdoses, a rate of 3.7 per 100,000 residents – slightly higher than in Sacramento County, according to the state database.

Sgt. Jeff Beigh, who runs the Social Services Unit of the Roseville police and oversaw the deployment of Narcan there, said officers have used the opioid overdose medication on three people. Each instance involved a person who was in their late teens to mid-to-late 20s, he said.

“That’s three people who get a second chance of life, who can still give their family members a hug,” he said.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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