FORTVILLE — Hancock County law enforcement officials have announced an initiative to put overdose-reversing drugs in the hands of police officers across the county.
With the help of grants from Indiana-based charitable organizations, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department will purchase 60 Narcan prescriptions, which deputies will carry with them while on patrol, in the Hancock County Jail and the neighboring Hancock County Community Corrections facility, Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.
Narcan is a brand name of the prescription drug, naloxone. If administered properly and in time, naloxone can reverse the effects of a prescription opioid or heroin overdose.
According to the manufacturer, the drug attaches to the same parts of the brain affected by heroin and other opioids, and it blocks their effects for 30 to 90 minutes, reversing the respiratory depression that would otherwise lead to death from an overdose.
Dozens of officers with the Fortville, New Palestine and Cumberland police departments also will be given the devices.
Law enforcement officers sometimes feel their hands are tied when it comes to medical or rescue calls, Shepherd said. Their mobility allows them to arrive on scene quickly but then historically have had to wait for paramedics or medical technicians to arrive to administer help.
Now, they’ll be armed with something to make a difference, Shepherd said.
“But this is something that we can carry in our cars — at least we have the tools now to help or maybe even save a life,” he said.
Drug overdose deaths have risen steadily since the late 1970s, and are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
National statistics show that more than 16,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2013, and more than 8,000 other deaths involved heroin.
Heroin and opioid use is a problem across the state, Shepherd said, but the drugs have not left a dark mark on Hancock County just yet. He estimated three heroin and opioid-related deaths have occurred in the county in the last few years. The goal of the initiative is to keep the issue at bay, Shepherd said.
Officers will carry nasal spray version of the medication, which costs roughly $30 a dose, officials said. Grant money was given to the departments by Overdose Lifeline Inc., an Indiana-based organization charged with helping individuals, families and communities struggling with addiction. Overdose Lifeline has worked to make Narcan available to all law enforcement agencies in Indiana.
Michael Cushing, a reserve deputy with the sheriff’s department, was instrumental in bringing Narcan to the county, Shepherd said.
Cushing has worked as a medic in Indianapolis for many years and saw too many drug-related deaths, he said. He approached Overdose Lifeline seeking grant money for Narcan. He then arranged for other departments to receive monetary assistance as well.
“(Heroin) is moving our way, and we’re seeing more and more of it,” Cushing said. “If we can get ahead of the curve and save one person in Hancock County, it’s a win for every person in Hancock County.”
Officers will go through a 30-minute class and will have to pass a test to receive a certification before they can carry the drug, Cushing said.
Many county leaders have been supportive of the new initiative, but Cushing said he expects some pushback by those who do not believe drug users should receive assistance.
“But that’s where we come in,” Cushing said. “We’re supposed to care. We’re supposed to help people.”