As heroin ravages the country, police forces from New York City to Vermont are now carrying the life-saving antidote Naloxone along with the standard accoutrements of the trade — handcuffs, mace, and a flashlight heavy enough to whack someone.
America’s crack epidemic has come and gone, but heroin abuse is going “viral” as more people addicted to prescription painkillers turn to the cheaper and increasingly available illicit high of heroin. Heroin-related deaths killed 30,000 Americans last year as the death rate rose by 84 percent in New York City to account for more than half the city’s drug overdose deaths in 2012.
But the problem is not at all relegated to the big cities, as research shows rural Americans are more likely than their city cousins to use illicit drugs such as heroin and marijuana. Nearby, the rural state of Vermont is likewise experiencing a heroin epidemic with a nearly 40 percent rise in heroin use in just the past year alone, according to The Boston Globe. Last year, 17 Vermonters died from heroin overdoses — a doubling from the previous year.
In an effort to save lives, the Vermont State Police in January consulted with William Roberts, the medical director of Northwestern Comprehensive Pain Management, to learn more about managing overdoses in the field. Col. Tom L’Esperance this month explained how officers may use the drug to help save lives.
"As first responders on emergency incidents, troopers play a pivotal role in quickly reversing the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose," he said in a statement. "The use of Naloxone is one more step in the process of creating a community response to opiate abuse and misuse."
Meanwhile, New York City police officers had a chance to use the drug last month to save a life, CNN reported. “We used the Naloxone, we injected it into his nose, shortly… after about 20-30 seconds, he … started breathing and his eyes opened,” Officer Kevin Kouroupos said, referring to a pilot program in Staten Island. “I do think every officer should carry it.”
However, Americans continue to die every day for lack of the life-saving intervention many might remember from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1984), when John Travolta saves Uma Thurman by plunging a syringe loaded with the antidote through her breastbone and directly into her heart. By 2010, officials in 15 states and the District of Columbia had distributed Naloxone to first-responders, along with major cities such as Baltimore and Chicago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, state and local health departments across the country trained more than 53,000 to adminster the drug, saving an estimated 10,000 lives since 1996. Still, greater distribution of the drug to first-responders has been hampered by worries of encouraging drug abuse, as some worry condoms only lead to more sex.
Yet Americans continue to use heroin and to die from overdoses, regardless of whether local police are carrying the antidote. In New York City’s Staten Island borough, 7.4 of every 100,00 residents die of heroin overdoses.