Narcan can cut OD deaths in half, Trumbull officer says

By Ed Runyan


At 7:08 p.m. May 7, Warren police were called to Packard Park, directly behind W. D. Packard Music Hall for a 23-year-old Warren woman who bystanders said appeared to be dead.

The woman who called 911 said a man was on top of her crying.

Warren Sgt. Greg Coleman arrived at 7:11 p.m. and found the woman unconscious, but she had a pulse. She had fresh “track marks” on her arm from a drug injection.

Patrolman Nick Carney found the man with her, a 20-year-old from Newton Falls, to be “acting very erratic” and having trouble standing. He had track marks on both arms.

“Have the squad step it up,” Coleman said — which usually means paramedics are needed right away.

A few minutes later, Carney placed the man in the back of the cruiser and asked for an ambulance for him.

At 7:26 p.m., MedStar ambulance personnel, who had arrived a short time earlier, administered a drug thought to be nothing short of a miracle by some people.

Narcan, which has been around for decades and has been used successfully numerous times in the Warren area to revive individuals from a drug overdose, was used. It works by counteracting the effects of opiates such as heroin and OxyContin, which depress the central nervous and respiratory systems.

Lt. Martin Gargas told the dispatcher moments later that the woman had regained consciousness and seemed to be doing fine.

“Narcan is wonderful,” Gargas said. The drug is also known by the name Naloxone.

Police later charged the man, who had a previous drug conviction in 2011, with misdemeanor possessing drug paraphernalia and possessing drug-abuse instruments after police found a syringe and two metal spoons with drug residue on them in their car.

The woman was not charged.

That situation is similar to the April 6, 2012, overdose of Christine Sheesley, 17, of Girard.

Sheesley and Tyler Stevens, then 19, injected heroin in Stevens’ Girard apartment. The difference is Sheesley, who fell unconscious shortly after taking the drug at about 9:30 p.m., didn’t get help and was found dead at about 9 a.m. the next day.

Lt. Jeff Orr, commander of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force, which handles most narcotics investigations in Trumbull County, said the two scenarios demonstrate how well Narcan can saves lives if circumstances make it possible for it to be used.

“Why do you think those people didn’t pick up the phone and call for help?” Orr asked of the handful of people who observed Sheesley unconscious.

“There were drugs there, and they were afraid of going to jail,” he said.

That’s why Orr said he advocates that Ohio adopt a 911 Good Samaritan law like one enacted in New York state in 2011 that provides limited immunity from prosecution of anyone who calls 911 to report a drug or alcohol overdose.

“We’re behind in Ohio,” Orr said.

Orr said equally important is legislation proposed in the Ohio Senate to create a pilot program in Lorain County that would allow police and firefighters to administer a nasal spray of Narcan to someone suspected of having overdosed. Current law allows it to be used only by paramedics.

Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning of North Ridgeville introduced the legislation at the urging of Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera, according to a newspaper report.

Orr said he thinks the number of overdose deaths would be cut in half if police officers were permitted to have the drug in their police cruisers, and local police chiefs supported it.

“As long as we’re not open to lawsuits, I don’t think too many [officers] would have a problem with it,” Orr said.

Capt. Eric Merkel, who’s set to become Warren police chief early this month, said the Legislature would have to provide a way to “release police of all liability” and provide training dollars for officers. He said it sounds like a type of training that would require annual updates.

A separate piece of legislation, sponsored by Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, would create a statewide program similar to a pilot program in place in Scioto County. It would allow ordinary Ohioans to carry Narcan, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The Scioto County program began with a $40,000 grant to provide Narcan kits, which cost about $44 each and include two doses of Narcan, a training DVD, a reference guide and a mask for rescue breathing. The kits are for addicts and those who care about them.

Columbus medics typically use the drug on five patients a day, fire division officials said. Not all of those uses are for opiate-overdoses, but it’s part of the protocol when encountering a person who’s unconscious for an unknown reason, the Dispatch reports.

Cincinnati Democratic state Sen. Eric Kearney is the primary sponsor of a more sweeping bill that would create a training standard for administering Narcan. It would remove the risk of liability for first responders and others who use it in an attempt to counteract an overdose, according to the News Messenger newspaper of Fremont.

While Trumbull County’s drug overdose problem is not as bad as some areas of southern Ohio, Trumbull had the seventh-highest per-capital drug overdose rate in the state in 2011, the most recent year statewide statistics are available, with 59 deaths. The number dropped to 36 in 2012, according to Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner. Mahoning County was ranked 19th in 2011, officials said.

Statewide, drug overdose deaths — mostly involving prescription pain killers and heroin — have risen 440 percent in the past decade, overtaking car crashes and falls as the leading reason for accidental deaths starting in 2007.

Stinziano said on his web site that medical authorities call Narcan “safe,” with “no potential for abuse.”

According to the Drug Policy Alliance of New York City, most accidental drug overdoses are preventable.

“Most accidental drug overdoses occur in the home and in the presence of others,” the alliance says in an online brochure. “Multiple studies of overdose experiences demonstrate that death rarely occurs immediately ... and most deaths occur one to three hours after the overdose.”

Ken Lloyd, president and CEO of Community Solutions Association, one of the leading addiction counseling agencies in Trumbull County, said he supports greater use of Narcan.

Lloyd said Narcan works very quickly and effectively in hospital emergency rooms.

“It’s real fast. They come right up off the table,” he said.

He said he understands there are those who would say addicts deserve what they get, but he wants every opportunity he can get to help someone recover.

“If I’ve got a life-and-death situation, I think I’m going to save the life. I can do more with a living addict than a dead one.”

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