Talk to area law enforcement and they’ll tell you – opioid use is an epidemic. Just last week President Trump declared it a national health emergency. Thanks to one state law – officers have been able to administer a drug to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. It’s called Naloxone or Narcan. But it can be an expensive fix and we found out funding for some departments who use it may be running out.
Each day a Manitowoc police officer heads out on patrol they carry along a life-saving drug – – brand name Narcan.
“We have four doses in every squad,” said Captain Jason Freiboth of the Manitowoc Police Department. “It’s a brand of Naloxone that basically counteracts the effect of opioids.
It is a drug that without a doubt saves many lives.
“The sooner we can get there – the higher the probability that we are able to save someone experiencing an overdose,” said Freiboth.
A drug officers here started administering one year ago in scenarios that play out often in this Lakeshore community.
“At least 10 times this year,” said Capt. Freiboth.
According to a state task force on opioid abuse, in 2014 more Wisconsin residents died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes. And the number of drug overdose deaths in the state doubled from 2004 to 2014.
The data helped convince lawmakers to pass a series of bills in 2014 to fight this crisis. One was Act 200 that allows for trained police officers to administer Narcan to overdose victims. People like Douglas Darby.
“I’ve been saved by Narcan three different times,” said Darby.
This now recovering addict is an advocate for understanding substance abuse through the organization Rise Together. He wasn’t saved during overdose by police, but he believes in the practice – that gives addicts a second chance.
“We are dealing with things that we’ve never dealt with before – so we need to take a look at things that are outside the box,” Darby said.
“It seems like our encounter with heroin is almost on a daily basis,” said Captain Jody Crocker of Ashwaubenon Public Safety.
Crocker says Ashwaubenon officers started carrying Narcan two years ago. They use to administer it once every couple for months.
“Now we’re giving it probably a couple, three times a month maybe,” Crocker said. “There are a lot of people alive today in our community itself because of Narcan.”
According to the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin, they have trained 84 police departments in Wisconsin on how to administer Narcan. In the first seven months of 2017 Ashwaubenon and Manitowoc police each deployed roughly 14 doses of Narcan. In Green Bay officers have deployed 48 doses since the department’s program started in September of 2015.
“Since that time, now about every two weeks one of our officers is deploying Narcan out in our community,” said Lt. Dave Wesley of the Green Bay Police Department.
Three days after being trained on the drug’s use Officer Mallory Meves became the first Green Bay officer to deploy the drug – saving a 23-year-old man’s life.
“I administered the drug because I got there prior to rescue,” said Meves. “Takes a matter of really seconds to minutes to work, pretty amazing stuff.”
But Lt. Wesley, who started Green Bay’s program, says Narcan is expensive and the need for it is increasing.
“One dosage of this can be up to $70 to $80 depending on what delivery system you go with,” Wesley said.
His department’s supply funded right now – not by taxpayers – but through donations which have pretty much dried up.
“We’re looking for a new revenue stream to fund us,” said Wesley. “Will that come through the police budget or through private donations, we’re exploring all those options right now.”
Recovering addicts like Darby say the program is too critical to cut.
“If we’re not giving the still struggling addict a method to survive, we’re never going to see what they do in recovery,” said Darby.
And the officers we spoke with agree – the opioid epidemic is too great to ever consider walking away.
“Officers who are equipped with this might be able to save more lives,” said Meves.
“We’ve got to start looking at what will fix these people long-term,” added Capt. Freiboth.
“Once they hit heroin that’s when it doesn’t stop,” said Crocker.
“This addiction is so strong that it can grab on to just about anybody in our community,” said Lt. Wesley.
So how many police departments statewide provide Narcan to their officers? That is hard to tell since no annual reporting on deployment is required by any state agency at this time.