NARCAN: The Patrol Officer’s Perspective By Joe Uliano
Second chances don’t come around too often in life
Here in New Jersey police officers have been giving out second chances on a daily basis. Police officers throughout New Jersey are committed to the fight against drug addiction and the growing trend of fatalities related to drug overdose.
To articulate this growing trend, The Center for Disease Control conducted a study spanning from 1999 to 2010, which concluded that our nation has become plagued with an opioid epidemic that is spiraling out of control. The study indicated that New Jersey has one of the highest fatality rates associated with opioid use in the Nation. As a response to this epidemic, the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey enacted P.L. 2013 c.46, commonly known as the Overdose Prevention Act.
Under the Overdose Prevention Act, police officers now have a greater duty to act when dealing with an overdose victim. Police officers are now tasked with providing a safe and effective antidote, known as Naloxone or Narcan in the field. Narcan is administered via an intranasal mist in each nostril and requires little training and poses no health or exposure risk to the police officer.
So why are police officers being tasked with providing Narcan?
As police officers, we are often first on scene and in many cases our immediate intervention is the difference between life and death. An opioid overdose generally attacks one’s respiratory system as it renders the victim unresponsive to the point that spontaneous breathing is either significantly reduced or completely absent. With the administering of Narcan, our immediate intervention has become more significant, which gives our victims a greater chance of survival. Narcan is designed to counter the effects of an opioid overdose by reversing respiratory depression, sedation and hypotension (low blood pressure). Prior to the implementation of Narcan, police officers would have to rely only on basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation, while valuable time was wasted waiting for a responding paramedic unit. With the use of Narcan, overdose victims have a greater chance of survival.
The stigma associated with a drug user
Drug addicts are stereotypically viewed as junkies–members of an inept population that have made the choice to live the way they do. However, this stigma has begun to change over the last few years, as we now know opioid addiction is affecting all walks of life.
Heroin is an illegal opioid that has been abused for many years and has taken many lives. It is important to understand that heroin is not the only contributing narcotic causing a spike in overdose fatalities. We are seeing medically prescribed opioids, such as Codeine, Demerol, and Oxycodone being widely abused and have now become major contributors to this growing epidemic.
Medically prescribed opioids have placed an interesting twist on the stigma associated with the former stereotypical drug addict. In fact, we now know making reference to a drug addict as being typical should be avoided. We have seen opioid addiction in many homes and in every profession, as drug addiction does not discriminate. Medically prescribed opioids have become the leading cause to heroin addiction. This is because eventually the prescriptions run out and the addict is forced to turn to the streets to feed his or her addiction. Those who are abusing opioids, develop altered brain function and chemistry, which creates the chemical dependency and the craving for more. This is why we cannot and must not classify drug addicts as anything less than someone struggling with a disease and not a choice.
Why are we saving
In a recent open discussion with officers from around the nation, this question came up. One officer asked: “Will this program increase drug use, because some drug addicts will no longer fear overdosing?” These remarks may sound harsh or insensitive, but nonetheless it is a valid question and concern. A similar debate arose during the late 1980s with the creation of the federally funded “Safe Needle Exchange Program.” This program was designed to reduce the spread of HIV. However, many raised concerns that the program would increase drug usage. The federal government conducted a six-year study from 1991 – 1997 that concluded that the program did not produce an increase in drug use and the goal of reducing the spread of HIV was accomplished.
So the question remains: Why are we as police officers saving drug addicts? The answer is simple and obvious. It is our duty. But, there is more involved. When we encounter an injured child or an elderly person, we tend to feel it a little more, as it touches home and in our hearts. We know that they are members of a vulnerable population and without our intervention or assistance they would be more vulnerable. We know this because we have compassion and empathy for those in need.
The truth of the matter is that those suffering from drug addiction are also part of a vulnerable population who also requires our compassion and empathy. We should not judge them or give into the stigma associated with drug addiction, but rather treat them as people in need. There is no greater gift than giving someone a second chance at life. If we are able to change the life of just one drug addict then we have done our job. At the end of the day All Lives Matter!
Joe Uliano’s public safety career began in 1995, after obtaining certification as an emergency medical techni-cian, a certification he has held for the past 20 years. While serving as an E.M.T. Joe decided public safety was his calling and began to pursue a law enforcement career. He was a true believer in stepping stones and first took a job as a police dispatcher, which ultimately led to landing a job as a municipal police officer in 2001. After being hired as a police officer, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Caldwell University and a master’s degree in Human Resources, Training, and Development from Seton Hall University.