Updated 9/4/2018: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from BPD Sgt. Jennifer Tate.
Berkeley Police Department is currently training officers to use Narcan, a “lifesaving” drug that stops opioid overdoses, so that they can carry it in the field, according to a Nixle alert released Thursday.
Many law enforcement departments have implemented Narcan programs because opioid abuse and overdoses have continued to increase over the past several years, according to the Nixle alert.
Agencies using Narcan have been able to reduce the number of fatal overdoses. The programs also allow officers to give the medication to each other in events of accidental exposure, according to the alert. BPD expects to deploy its new Narcan program as soon as officers finish their training on how to use the medication.
“It’s really essential to have a prompt and effective response (to overdoses),” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It makes sense for police, who may be the first responders, to be on the scene with medication for someone who is having problems with opioids.”
Worthington added that U.S. police officers’ worry for their own health has contributed to the reasoning for carrying Narcan. Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, can be lethal even in tiny amounts, and U.S. police officers have overdosed after coming in contact with the drug when responding to crime.
BPD Sgt. Jennifer Tate said there has been an increase in fentanyl abuse, with fentanyl now easier to access than heroin. Often people obtain a drug without knowing that it is laced with fentanyl, Tate said.
Tate explained that BPD initially wanted to obtain Narcan to prevent police officers from overdosing, but then decided it was an obvious concern that community members may overdose if police officers are the first responders and don’t have access to Narcan.
“Even if we save one person, it is worth it for officers to have (Narcan) as a caretaking measure,” Tate said.
Narcan can be administered either through the nose or vein and rapidly reverses the effects of opioids, according to Brian Potts, medical director of the emergency department at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.
“(Narcan) is one of the few things out there where only a dose of the medicine can save someone’s life,” Potts said. “I’m happy that the BPD is looking into this program, and if they need support, just know their local emergency department would love to work with them.”
In the past, paramedics in the field or the Berkeley Fire Department would be responsible for administering Narcan, Potts said. But he said police are often the first responders, and their access to Narcan could save lives. He added that the U.S. health community has made a “concerted effort” to avoid overprescribing opioids.
Andrea Prichett, police review commissioner and co-founder of Berkeley Copwatch, said she is supportive of the program because harm reduction is an important aspect of public safety.
“It’s a good policy (and) it’s a good use of our training dollars for the police,” Prichett said. “We are moving away from urban shield and militarization and more towards a broader understanding of what community safety really means. … It’s really nice to see us moving in that kind of direction again.”