By Jason W. Brooks

Police aren't thought of as first responders who supply a medical remedy. However, in many cases, an ambulance or EMTs aren't yet in the area.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed Senate File 2218 and 28 other bills into law Wednesday, allowing first responders to stock and administer drugs called opioid antagonists for use in life-threatening opioid overdoses.

This bill had widespread support in the Legislature. It passed both the Iowa Senate 48-0 on March 8 and the Iowa House by a 93-2 margin on March 23.

All four Jasper County legislators -- District 15 Sen. Chaz Allen (D-Newton) District 28 Rep. Greg Heartsill (R-Columbia), District 29 Rep. Dan Kelley (D-Newton) and District 14 Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) -- voted in favor of the measure.

Kelley said the goal of the bill is to prevent opioid overdose deaths.

"SF 2218 will allow first responders (law enforcement, EMTs, paramedics, etc) to have on hand a prescription opioid antagonist to administer if they encounter a person that they believe to be experiencing a drug overdose while doing their job," Kelley said. "I want to do all I can to help law enforcement and other first responders keep Iowans safe."

Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess said there are some lifesaving tools used by police, and it's always great to have access to another form of lifesaving help.

"This is another tool that will help first responders save someone's life," Burdess said. "Particularly in rural areas where paramedic level care is not an option."

Narcan became the first FDA-approved nasal spray version of naloxone hydrochloride when it was approved in November. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Opioids are starting to show up as illegally trafficked narcotics in Jasper County and other parts of central Iowa. Opioids include prescription medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, as well as the illegal street version of heroin.

Allen said even though Iowa isn't necessarily one of the frontline battleground states for opioid prevalence, it's important to stay ahead of the problem.

"Prescription overdoses kill more Americans each year than all other drugs combined," Allen said. "Though Iowa ranks 45th in the nation for overdose fatalities, the number of Iowa drug deaths -- a majority of which are related to prescription medications -- has more than quadrupled in recent years. Between 2009 and 2014, 646 Iowans lost their lives to opioids."

The bill also allows for licensed health care professionals to maintain a supply of the opioid antagonist and administer it in cases of an overdose. A "person in a position to assist," including a family member, friend, caregiver, substance abuse facility employee and others, could also administer the emergency drug," Allen Said.

Other bills signed into law Wednesday Branstad include a school-funding increase of 2.25 percent for 2016-17 and 2017-18, a plan of procedures involving children who are victims of sex trafficking and a law that allows of guns to be carried on snowmobiles and ATVs.

Rex Heisdorffer, the training and EMS officer for the Newton Fire Department said the idea of law enforcement supplying anything medicinal to a person -- especially in life-or-death situations -- is somewhat novel. Communication with the medical community will determine how effective Narcan will be in the field.

"There are quite a few other states already doing this, and there hasn't really been a great deal of concern expressed (about non-medically trained police administering the drug)," Heisdorffer said. "The conditions for this type of overdose would involve hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, so when a person is brought out of that, they can become combative, so all first responders need to know that and get an organizational plan together."

Burdess agreed communication will be a big key in carrying and using Narcan.

"This is a new concept for Iowa law enforcement and obtaining and using this drug will likely be evaluated by many departments to determine the need for it within their community and also the cost and requirements necessary for training the officers and storage of the drug," Burdess said. "With very little experience in this area, Iowa law enforcement is going to have to rely heavily on the recommendation of their local EMS and hospitals, as well as networking with agencies from other states who have used this lifesaving drug."

(c)2016 the Newton Daily News (Newton, Iowa)