Leading The Way In The War Against Painkiller Abuse

Leading The Way In The War Against Painkiller Abuse
Posted on 10/05/2016

By CHPD Chief Robby Russo

In 2014, 32 percent of Utah adults aged 18 years and older had been prescribed an opioid pain medication in the previous 12 months. Prescription opioids can be addictive and very dangerous. Most Utahns who die from a drug-related death suffer from chronic pain and take prescribed medications. Misuse of these medications can lead to serious legal and personal consequences, including death. Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from prescription drug overdoses, making Utah 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths.

Deaths from opiates have now outpaced deaths due to firearms, falls, and motor vehicle crashes. The majority (59 percent) of deaths from prescription pain medications involved oxycodone, however the risk of death is significantly higher when methadone is involved. According to the Utah Department of Health, our state has experienced a 400 percent increase in overdose deaths over the past decade, and poisoning/overdose is now the number one cause of injury death (Fondario, UTDOH 09/2014):

The figure below is a chart showing the total number of U.S. overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers from 2001 to 2014.  The chart is overlaid by a line graph showing the number of deaths by females and males.

 Cottonwood Heights is not immune from the opiate/opioid epidemic, and CHPD has taken proactive steps to save lives.  Although we may not always agree about the choices someone makes to introduce heroin or the pharmacological equivalent of OxyContin or morphine into their body, the fact remains they are someone’s child, brother or parent. 

For years, paramedics have carried Naloxone (nicknamed “Nar-can”), a non-addictive prescription medication that helps to block the effects of opiates on the body. Thanks to new legislation by Utah Representative Carol Spackman Moss, Representative Steve Eliason and Senator Brian Shiozawa, it’s now available to police officers. 

Police officers are frequently the first responders to overdoses, and CHPD has teamed up with Dr. Jennifer Plumb from Primary Children’s Hospital to be the first Utah law enforcement group to equip officers with Nar-Can. We obtained the medication through a grant from Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) and trained our officers this past July. It’s given us the ability to save lives in the precious moments that people need it the most. The sooner we can get them breathing again and oxygen to the brain, the better. 

Less than a week after training, our officers saved a man who overdosed on heroin in the basement of his home. Nar-Can has been referred to as the “Lazarus” drug, since using it is like watching someone rise from the dead.  It’s a very gratifying feeling for our officers to preserve a life. 

Since that time, we’ve had three additional saves. The beauty of Nar-Can is it’s harmless to someone who is suffering from something other than an opiate high. The greatest risk to officers is that once the “high” goes away and the patient wakes up, they’re often combative.

Since taking the lead on deploying Nar-Can in the field to police officers, other agencies in the state have come on board. CHPD is proud to lead the way in Utah’s war against opiate/opioid abuse.