Detroit, Ferndale cops now carry naloxone

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that 22 naloxone kits were provided to Ferndale from the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority.

Officers from the Detroit Police Department will take training Thursday afternoon in how to dispense opioid antagonist naloxone, which reverses overdoses, the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority said.

In the five years from 2010 to 2014, the last year for which numbers are available, 279 people in Detroit died of heroin or opioid overdoses, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Detroit police first took advantage of the free training Tuesday, when about 40 officers participated. On Thursday, officers are expected to take part, a mix of incoming officers and existing patrol officers, said Brooke Blackwell, spokeswoman for the authority.

After training, officers leave with naloxone kits and the immediate ability to use the drug. Detroit police officials could not immediately be reached.

When a person’s opioid intoxication is too severe, the drug clings to the brain’s receptors that control breathing. That’s how overdose victims die, by literally forgetting to breathe. Outside of death, prolonged oxygen loss can do permanent damage to the brain, the heart or other organs.

Naloxone reverses that process and allows the user to breathe again. The user springs back to life almost immediately, but experts say they’re not to be left alone, as the drug wears off in 30 to 90 minutes. When it does, the overdose can return.

In March, the authority trained about several dozen law enforcement officials and first responders, including Michigan State Police troopers, on how to use naloxone. While the training and the kits are free, the authority does ask that participating officers file a report, due on the fifth of each month, on their use of the drug. The authority bought 2,500 kits and distributes them to participating officers free of charge, though agencies need to buy refills of the actual drug when their initial dosages run out.

In 2014, more than 1,000 people died in Michigan of fatal opioid overdoses; that year, 1,745 people in Michigan died of drug overdoses, which is almost twice as many fatalities as the 876 people who died in car crashes in Michigan.

2015 marked the first time that law enforcement was permitted to carry the opioid antidote naloxone. In Metro Detroit alone, dozens of lives have been saved between several participating departments, including sheriffs offices in Oakland and Macomb County.

Earlier this month, officers with the Ferndale Police Department began carrying naloxone, police chief Timothy Collins told The News.

“We’re experiencing a resurgence of heroin,” Collins said, “not just locally, but nationally.”

In the last five years, 114 people in Oakland County have died of opioid overdoses, according to state figures.

None have had the chance to use it to save a life as yet, Collins said, but with patrol officers always on the move, there are “five or six doses of naloxone driving around at any given time.”

Ferndale police obtained their first batch of 22 naloxone kits from the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, Collins said. It joins Novi and Farmington Hills as other Oakland County communities to embrace the life-saving capabilities of the drug.

Patrol officers, sergeants and lieutenants will carry the drug, and all 40 sworn officers have been trained in its use, Collins said.

“A lot of times, we get to scenes before anyone else,” Collins said. “This is one way to help people who’ve gotten into heroin or opiates and gone down the wrong path. It has and will save lives.”