St. Louis Police Have a New Weapon Against Drug Overdoses

by | August 4, 2017 AT 12:05 PM

By Celeste Bott

All city police officers soon will be equipped with an antidote that can block the effect of opioid overdoses.

Following a pilot project in south St. Louis, each officer will eventually carry Narcan, known clinically as naloxone, said SLMPD spokeswoman Schron Jackson.

Narcan, which can be administered intravenously or through a nasal spray, already is stocked in city ambulances, allowing emergency responders to revive scores of opioid addicts. Last year, the St. Louis Fire Department used it 1,900 times.

St. Louis County officers and other area police departments already have begun carrying the antidote.

"We are going through Narcan faster than we can put it in cars," St. Charles county police chief David Todd told the Post-Dispatch in February.

The Post-Dispatch has documented just how dangerous -- and accessible -- the drugs are becoming. Heroin prices have plummeted to $5 to $10 a dose, and a new, synthetic opioid has flooded the market. Fentanyl may be cheap, but it's also 50 times stronger than the real thing.

Former Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill in 2014 allowing first responders to carry the drug in Missouri. Last month, Gov. Eric Greitens called opioids "a modern plague" and signed an executive order giving first responders greater access to the antidote and expanding the training on how to use it.

It's one of a number of measures state and local officials are hoping will stem the opioid epidemic devastating the Show-Me state and the nation .

But Narcan isn't a cure. Its lifesaving effect wanes, but it buys roughly 30 to 45 minutes for the overdose victim to receive additional medical attention.

Police departments throughout the country have begun supplying officers with the drug, but it can be expensive, and multiple doses must sometimes be administered given the potency of opioids like Fentanyl.

Jackson said the department has an initial supply of Narcan in stock, and current and future supplies of the antidote are paid for by a federal grant.

Additionally, the department has assigned a detective solely to investigate opioid deaths, she said.

There were more than 700 overdoses in the St. Louis region in 2016, a record that is expected to be surpassed in 2017.

(c)2017 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch