Sheriff’s Office arms deputies with lifesaving overdose drug as fatal form of heroin emerges

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Robert Childs, with the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, administers a Naloxone dose to a sheriff's deputy during training. Photo by Christina Haley.
Robert Childs, with the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, administers a Naloxone dose to a sheriff’s deputy during training. Photo by Christina Haley.

The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office now has access to a powerful life-saving drug that can be used as tool to prevent a heroin overdose. Members of the sheriff’s office received training on the drug called Naloxone on Wednesday, just hours before releasing new information to the public that a potentially fatal form of heroin is currently being sold on county streets.

The sheriff’s office is the first agency in southeastern North Carolina to receive the drug Naloxone from the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) to utilize in the community, according to Robert Childs, Executive Director with the NCHRC.

Naloxone is a prescription medicine that reverses an opioid overdose, which can be caused by prescription opiate medications and heroin, according to the NCHRC. Naloxone will only reverse an opioid overdose and does not prevent deaths caused by other non-opioid drugs. A person cannot have too much Naloxone, which is even harmless to people who have not taken an opiate drug.

The sheriff’s office received 101 dosage units of Naloxone, which deputies will carry to use on citizens who have overdosed, according to Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Emily Flax.

The addition of the Naloxone at the sheriff’s office is all part of the effort to combat the growing heroin epidemic in the county and to save lives, Flax said. Wednesday night, the sheriff’s office announced a new development in their investigations into heroin in the county.

Within the last week, the sheriff’s office drug enforcement unit has found bags of heroin that contain an unknown and dangerous substance that has been mixed with the drug, Flax said.

“Over the past week, the [sheriff’s office] drug enforcement unit has conducted multiple heroin investigations…these investigations indicate that the unknown substance can and will cause experienced users to overdose. Without immediate medical attention, this mixture can be lethal,” Flax said.

The Brunswick County Sheriff's Office is alerting the public of a brand of heroin that has been mixed with an unknown substance, which can be lethal to even the most experienced user. Photo courtesy of BCSO.
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office is alerting the public of a brand of heroin that has been mixed with an unknown substance, which can be lethal to even the most experienced user. Photo courtesy of BCSO.

The sheriff’s office alerted the community to this potentially deadly dose of heroin in hopes that the information will prevent the loss of life in the region, she added.

Meanwhile, members of the sheriff’s office were guided through the training Wednesday on how to administer Naloxone to a person experiencing an overdose. Childs provided the training services to the sheriff’s office at no cost, along with the first round of Naloxone doses, which were funded by grant money and provided by the NCHRC.

The goal is for the sheriff’s office to equip every road deputy, drug agent, detective and detention officer with the drug and eventually expand to the courthouse. The first round of Naloxone will go out to road patrol, but the sheriff’s office is working to get more Naloxone doses from the NCHRC in the near future, Flax said.

The NCHRC advocates for legislation, as well as direct services for law enforcement and people made vulnerable by drug use, Childs said. The coalition does everything from Naloxone distribution to education on keeping people safe.

“You’re going to start seeing Naloxone out in the community among people who use drugs and people who love people who have been using drugs, as well as people who have accidentally overdosed on opiate pain medications,” Childs said during his training Wednesday.

Senate Bill 20, also known as the “Good Samaritan Law” passed in April 2013, allows a citizen or an officer to administer Naloxone on anyone experiencing an overdose with no civil or criminal liability, Childs said. The law has also allowed community organizations to distribute the drug to people who are likely to experience an overdose.

Read related story: Gov. McCrory signs Good Samaritan Law

“We’ve been going out and distributing this to help people to reverse drug overdose and save lives, much as your department will soon be able to do as well…administer this medication in the field to drug overdoses that you encounter,” Childs said.

The distribution program has been successful across North Carolina, Childs said. There are 36 departments in the state that have taken on Naloxone, the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office included, with another five to 10 expected in the next couple months, he added.

“We’re really excited about the initiative from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office because we see it as a great possibility to save a lot of lives, which is what this initiative is about,” Childs said.

The drug has saved nearly 1,500 lives in North Carolina this year, including more than 150 in New Hanover and Brunswick counties combined, Childs said.

So far this year, the sheriff’s office has responded to 16 heroin-related fatalities, Flax said. The rise of heroin in the county and surrounding communities recently prompted the sheriff’s office to begin “Operation You’re Next” to take down about 80 identified heroin dealers and to find real treatment solutions for addicts.

“Operation You’re Next” is an ongoing investigation, according to Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Drug Enforcement Unit Lt. Steve Lanier.

Part of Wednesday’s training was for deputies to learn how to account for doses administered in the field. Each time a device is used, deputies are required to fill out a form with the drug’s serial number. The drug is to be considered another piece of equipment assigned to each deputy.

“The whole point behind these are to have them where you can readily access them whenever you’re out there in the field and you may encounter somebody on one of these medical calls to be able to utilize them to try to save lives,” Lanier said to the group in training. “The worst case – we try to use it and it doesn’t work.”

This is one of the many steps the sheriff’s office is trying to take to prevent people from dying, he added.

“We’ve had multiple occasions where are deputies have responded to a medical call or somebody that was…actively overdosing on heroin or an opiate-based pill, and [the deputy] did not have access to the Naloxone when they showed up. And they were the first responders on scene,” Lanier said. “We’ve had to wait a few minutes until EMS was able to get in…and then EMS was able to administer the drug.”

The problem in getting Naloxone at the sheriff’s office in the past has been funding, Lanier said. But the sheriff’s office has been working with Childs, who has been able to find funding and get the initial batch for the agency at no cost.

The first units of Naloxone the sheriff’s office received are injections called Evizio are made by Kaleo Pharma. But a new nasal spray provided by Adapt Pharma and approved for distribution in mid-November by the FDA, will be distributed to the sheriff’s office in the future, Childs said. While an injection can costs several hundred dollars, Childs said the new NARCAN nasal spray device is offered at a “public interest price” of $37.50 per 4 mg dose.

Drug agents and deputies are completely behind the Naloxone distribution and training, Lanier said.

“This is just one spoke in the wheel to try to combat heroin…and stop it from infiltrating our community,” Lanier said. “Every month we have several heroin-related calls, where overdose is a potential. So there’s always a need, or at least, always a position to have it.”

For more information about the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, its programs and services, click here.

Read other related coverage:

Brunswick Sheriff’s series of community talks on safety, heroin epidemic, begins tonight

WPD reports spike in heroin overdoses

Heroin, prescription drug arrests, overdoses on the rise