Naloxone training comes to Wayne County

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

The use of naloxone, a heroin antidote that stops overdoses in their tracks, has saved dozens of lives in southeast Michigan since 2015, when law enforcement and first responders were permitted to use the drug. This occurred despite the fact that three of Michigan’s largest police agencies — Michigan State Police, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, and the Detroit Police Department — still didn’t carry it.

That’s changing. On Tuesday, 100 first responders in Wayne County, including members of the sheriff’s office, police officers who work for Downriver and Western Wayne police departments, along with EMS workers, will be trained in how to dispense the life-saving drug.

Dr. Carmen McIntyre, chief medical officer of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, will lead the training along with the authority’s director of substance use disorders, Darlene Owens, said authority spokeswoman Brooke Blackwell.

Said McIntyre in a statement announcing Tuesday’s training: “Naloxone is a safe substance that has one pharmacological function: to reverse the effects of opioids on the brain and respiratory system in order to prevent opioid overdose deaths and get help to those individuals struggling with addiction.”

In April, the authority plans to train Detroit police officers, firefighters and EMS workers in how to dispense the drug. Highland Park and Hamtramck police will also be trained.

Separately, some Michigan State Police troopers will learn how to use naloxone, Lt. Mike Shaw previously told The News.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office has saved 20 people from potentially fatal overdoses since they started carrying naloxone in March 2015, said undersheriff Mike McCabe. The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office started carrying naloxone in May 2016, and it has saved 21 lives since, said Lt. John Michalke.

Farmington Hills Police Chief Chuck Nebus said the department started carrying the antidote in February. Already, police in the suburb of about 80,000 have saved two lives; they would've saved a third, Nebus said, if the fire department hadn't reached a scene at the same time and administered the drug first.

All 106 sworn law enforcement personnel have naloxone kits, Nebus said. These came free via the Oakland County Mental Health Authority's LERN (Law Enforcement Responds with Naloxone) program. If those costs were to change, the department would look for the money in its budget or use drug forfeiture funds, Nebus said.

In 2015, there were "about a dozen" heroin-related deaths in Farmington Hills, Nebus said. That number could've more than doubled had firefighters and EMTs not saved 15 people's lives using Narcan.

Nebus rejected the notion that equipping officers with naloxone is tacit acceptance of the drug problem.

"It's not for law enforcement — or anyone else — to make judgments about people's lifestyles or who should live," Nebus said, noting that heroin affects people who are young, old, successful, unemployed, and in every social location in between.

"When you get that opportunity to save a life, you can't pass it up."

Opioid abuse is one of Michigan’s greatest public health challenges, so much so that Gov. Rick Snyder convened a task force on it last year. About twice as many people died in Michigan in 2014 of drug overdoses than car crashes, according to state figures. 2014 is the last year for which numbers were available. That year, for the first time in Michigan history, more than 1,000 people fatally overdosed on opioids.