Columbia police officers to soon carry overdose reversal drugs

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department is giving its officers a new tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic in Missouri. 

It will start distributing an opioid overdose reversal drug called naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, to all of its 173 sworn officers once they are all trained to use it, according to CPD spokesperson Bryana Larimer. 

Naloxone is a nasal spray injected into one's nose when they are lying on their back. It has the ability to help a person experiencing an opioid overdose breathe steadily and return their body to a normal state. 

Larimer said training started around two months ago, and about half of the officers have already been fully trained. She said the department hopes to have the other half trained in the next couple of months.

Missouri Opioid-Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education Project (MO-HOPE) offered almost $8,000 in grant money to cover all of the cost of the drugs.

“MO-HOPE is purchasing it and providing it to our department,” Larimer said.

As for now, the number of doses officers will receive after training depends solely on the grant money.

“As long as the grant will provide it, our officers will then be fulfilled with having those doses,” Larimer said. “So if the grant runs out, then past that, if we would need, for example, any more doses, and the grant runs out, and it’s not renewable, then, we likely wouldn’t have it for some officers.”

She said adding the drugs into the officers’ tool boxes will allow them to better ensure the citizens’ safety. 

“There’s an opioid epidemic, and that’s not just specific to Columbia, that’s nationally,” she said. “So having this tool to able to assist in those situations where they’re responding to these overdoses, again, it’s a life-saving measure.”

The Boone County Fire Protection District and the Columbia Fire Department have both been using naloxone for a while. 

Martina Pounds, Captain of the Boone County Fire Protection District, said the fire district started using naloxone two years ago, and every fire truck now carries an identical medical bag with a Narcan box inside.

“We did a training through our district, so everybody was trained to the same level,” she said.

Pounds said the fire district’s funds cover the cost, and it has used the drugs in about 25 cases.

“If it’s a true opioid overdoes, Narcan definitely works,” she said. “If you don’t give them Narcan, then they can stay in cardiac arrest, and then they can die eventually.”

Pounds said especially in surrounding rural areas where EMS teams usually don’t arrive as fast as they do in urban areas, having firefighters carry the drugs can be helpful because the fire district has stations all over.

“A lot of times you don’t have a medical unit quite that close,” she said.

However, Pounds points out the drugs can only serve as “immediate help” and “pre-hospital care.” She said using naloxone is just a temporary solution, because it has a shorter half-life than heroin.

“Which means it works for a while, but then basically it’s just all used up, and then the heroin’s half-life is longer, so it would reattach itself,” she said.

Pounds said because naloxone wears off pretty quickly, the users still have to go to the hospital, though a lot of times they are not willing to.

“So they overdose, we give them Narcan, and they feel good, because they feel like ‘oh, now I’m fine.’ And they don’t feel a problem with that. So they don’t wanna go to the hospital because they think, ‘well, now I’m fine,’” she said.

Pounds said she has personally witnessed two cases.

“Both times the person woke up immediately. And sometimes, they’re not super happy that we did that.”

Overdose victims usually don’t like being saved by naloxone because it brings them immediately off of their “high.”

“So a lot of them don’t know that they actually were not breathing,” Pounds said. “They don’t know that. So when you bring them back, for them, you just brought them off of a really, really good high.”

Pounds said there is a national trend to increase access to naloxone for first responders.

“A lot of departments all across the country want to carry Narcan as an intervention drug,” she said. “With a lot of the heroin overdoses, and with that being on the rise.”

Larimer said although using medication to assist citizens on the scene is not “usually in the parameter” of what officers do when they respond to calls, CPD is looking forward to the official launch of the new service.

“It’s unique. It’s new. In most cases when you think of a medical response to an overdose, you think of paramedics. You think of firefighters. You know, those first responders. It’s opening up for them as far as learning how to use, you know, a medication essentially.”

Columbia City Council approved police use of naloxone in a meeting Monday night.