Neither Cabell nor Berkeley County sheriff deputies are carrying a lifesaving drug that counters heroin overdoses—even though their communities lead the state in overdose deaths.
To help curb the epidemic, several police agencies around the state have started carrying Naloxone, a prescription drug that blocks the effects of opioids, reversing an overdose.
It’s the drug two Charleston officers used to save a man’s life in November. The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office launched a naloxone program in conjunction with the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority in September 2015.
According to data compiled by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Cabell and Berkeley counties have led the state in heroin overdose deaths.
“We haven’t implemented it because we are very blessed to have a great, great EMS system,” said Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas. “Their response time is usually less than five minutes, so they usually arrive on a scene before law enforcement – or about at the same time,” McComas said.
Since naloxone has specific storage requirements, it might not be feasible for deputies to always store it properly, he said.
“It’s definitely not our real expertise, so we do rely on the EMTs because they usually get to these calls before us anyhow,” he said.
Berkeley County Sheriff Kenny Lemaster has similar concerns. “There’s no doubt that heroin is a big problem here and we are working on getting naloxone training but so far we are not yet using it,” he said. “The training is free, but it’s not when you consider the time it takes to get my people trained and do the necessary scheduling changes while this training is taking place. And there is also the expense of the naloxone itself,” he said.
Lemaster is also concerned about potential legal liabilities for using it or even not using it.
Others, meanwhile, are working to make access to this lifesaving drug easier.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in March 2015 authorized first responders to carry naloxone, as well as relatives and friends of a person at risk of an overdose. Since that time several police departments have begun using it and lives are being saved.
Huntington City Police and West Virginia State Police are both planning to carry the drug.
Kaleo, a Richmond, Va.-based pharmaceutical company, donated 2,200 doses of its Evzio naloxone auto-injectors to the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and Marshall University School of Pharmacy. As a result, free naloxone will be available for anyone who holds the required training certification.
Additionally, West Virginia University last month began helping train state law enforcement officers. The effort was launched in conjunction with Monongalia County Sheriff Al Kisner and Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston.
Nationally, 26 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws increasing naloxone’s availability.