Arkansas State Police will distribute two canisters of the nasal spray Narcan to troopers so they can revive a drug addict suffering from an opioid overdose. The drug blocks the effects of overdose, which otherwise would slow and eventually stop the person’s breathing.
Having the antidote in the hands of first responders may be particularly helpful in rural parts of the state, according to spokesperson Bill Sadler.
“In many parts of Arkansas, it is not immediately available, so the State Police believes that it is worthwhile to place this drug in the hands of the troopers, to particularly assist those in the rural part of the state,” he said.
Since troopers are often the first responders to a medical emergency, Sadler said they will follow their training and administer the drug to an unconscious individual if they believe there’s a chance the person has overdosed on opioids.
He expects all training to be complete by the end of August.
According to the instructions from the manufacturer, the rescuer should shake the shoulders and loudly call the name of the unconscious individual. If there’s still no response, the rescuer should administer the nasal spray.
Dr. Daniel Bennett at Jonesboro Clinic, one of the few medical facilities in the area that specializes in opioid addiction, called the decision to outfit troopers with Narcan an excellent one. He said all first responders should carry Narcan, and that it should be considered for all county detention centers as well.
“Whether we like it or not, drugs do find their way within the prison system and to incarcerated individuals,” he said.
Law enforcement carrying Narcan has been controversial in other states, after some troopers said they encountered and revived the same addict two or three times and reportedly wondered if they were enabling the addiction. Sadler said he was not aware of any similar feedback from Arkansas's troopers.
Bennett said overdoses may increase, not because addicts feel safer pushing the envelope, but because opioids are becoming more potent. He said some heroin is now being laced with fentanyl, a powerful substance that can taint heroin and make it even more dangerous.
According to Adapt Pharma, the company that makes Narcan, the drug is not a substitute for emergency medical care. A patient who receives a dose of Narcan should still be brought to a hospital for treatment, and since overdosing on illegal drugs is not a crime by itself, he or she would often be free to go afterwards without facing any criminal charges.
"But it depends very much on the circumstances," said Sadler. He said a trooper would administer the life-saving drug first, and then afterwards evaluate the "totality" of the scene to see what, if any, charges would be pursued.
Experts say many people, particularly adults over the age of 25, start on the road to opioid abuse through prescriptions. A map of opioid prescriptions across the U.S. can be found here.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.