Westport police on the front lines of drug abuse
Published 4:30 pm, Sunday, August 14, 2016
WESTPORT — Town police are set to begin carrying a treatment that stops and reverses drug overdoses.
Each squad car will be equipped with Narcan — a nasal spray of the drug naloxone — starting in September, Lt. David Farrell said. Officers will be trained to administer the treatment, which has saved the lives and prevented brain damage of numerous victims overdosing on opioids.
Opioids include heroin, fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone, among other controlled substances.
Police believed it was important they have the treatment as first responders and chose to purchase Narcan because they saw the need. Farrell said Westport has seen overdoses rise in the last year.
“It’s to save lives,” he said. “Unfortunately people are doing drugs — but when they do them they aren’t setting out to die.”
Naloxone helps to reverse the effect of opioids on the central nervous system, allowing a victim to breathe again after an overdose has caused their breathing to slow or stop, according to Hartog.
“The more first responders that we have out there with Narcan, the better the chance of reversing the opiate effect quickly and getting patients breathing on their own so they don’t have any lingering neurological or other effects as a result of the overdose,” he said.
EMS responders have been successful using Narcan, but police are usually on patrol and at a scene first in a situation where “minutes count,” Farrell said. Even a minute without breathing can cause long-term damage, according to Hartog.
The town has been fortunate the heroin epidemic across the United States has not had a severe impact in Westport, Hartog added. He called the purchase of Narcan for police a proactive effort.
“We don’t think for a minute that Westport is immune to things happening other places,” he said.
Brian Boyle, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for Connecticut and Rhode Island, said heroin overdoses began to rise nationally about two to three years ago and have grown at an “enormous” rate. In part the rise in overdoses is due to stronger heroin and an increase in the drug fentanyl coming into the country, he said, so users do not know the strength of drugs they are buying.
While Boyle said past epidemics of cocaine and crack use tended to cluster in inner cities, the heroin epidemic has also impacted wealthier suburban communities like Westport.
“Heroin is really all over. It affects all walks of life,” he said. “Westport is no different than any other town or city.”
One overdose death was recorded in 2015 with an injury location of Westport, according to statistics from the state chief medical examiner’s website. The 46-year-old woman died of an accidental overdose from a mixture of fentanyl, heroin and lorazepam last March.
The chief medical examiner’s office is projecting 832 overdose deaths in Connecticut for 2016, a rise from the 729 overdose deaths recorded in 2015. Heroin, morphine and codeine involvement in overdoses has risen while fentanyl involvement has spiked, rising from 75 in 2014 to an expected 332 this year.
Westport police also announced the addition of a third police dog last week. German Shepherd Atlas will be certified for patrol as well as narcotics detection.
Adding a third dog is, in part, an effort to keep drugs from getting to potential users, Farrell said. While police will look to make arrests, they hope to stop suppliers and the flow of drugs to someone who could overdose.
Police Chief Foti Koskinas has a long-term goal of eventually having a dog on every shift, according to Farrell. That staffing would require about four to five dogs.
Boyle said the DEA has used Westport K9s for long-term investigations since the agency has no dogs of its own.
“We rely heavily on these police departments for their support,” he said. “We have a great relationship with Westport police and rely on their support in a lot of cases. So them adding a dog is great for us.”
Connecticut passed a law this year that requires municipalities to train and equip first responders with naloxone. An Act Concerning Opioids and Access to Overdose Reversal Drugs also dictates that municipalities must revise their emergency medical services plans to include the naloxone requirement by Oct. 1 of this year.
Narcan does no harm if given to someone not actually experiencing an overdose, according to Adapt Pharma’s website.