INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – New statistics show a heroin antidote carried by IMPD officers has helped save at least 21 lives since April. However, I-Team 8 found all of these incidents happened on the same side of the city.
It’s called Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, and it can immediately reverse the effects of any opiate, including heroin. But, the drug only works if it’s administered quickly.
That’s why IMPD began training officers to use it earlier this year.
“It’s very, very simple,” said Patrolman Richard Cox, an 8-year veteran IMPD officer. “It wasn’t even a full day of training – just a couple of hours. Now, I could probably set it up in 20 seconds and have it to them in under a minute.”
Cox had to do exactly that in late June.
ARMED WITH AN ANTIDOTE
“When I started, I didn’t see much heroin,” Cox told I-Team 8. “If I saw it a couple times a year, it was a surprise. Now, we’re seeing it a couple times a week.”
On one of those occasions, Cox chased a female suspect from a suspected theft down the 6800 block of West Washington. She climbed a fence to a nearby business before he caught up to her.
When he did, he noticed her swallow a handful of pills.
“She was talking to me, and then she started swaying. I told her she had better sit down. As soon as she did, her head dropped completely down to her chest, and she went limp. I called for EMS, and started shaking her, and she wasn’t moving. And, she immediately just fell to the ground.”
Suspecting the woman had swallowed prescription opiate pain pills, also used as synthetic heroin, Cox administered Narcan in the form of two nasal sprays.
“And, that probably saved her life. It got her breathing again. It buys them time while we’re waiting for the medical professionals to get there. They get there fast. But, there are times we get there first. And, we might be there a few minutes [before they arrive]. When it’s life or death, a few minutes are a long time,” Cox said.
Perhaps no one knows that better than Lynn Roscoe.
“I THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD”
“It was just two months ago,” Roscoe remembered, standing outside her front door. “I just went out to the garage to see what was taking him so long, and he wasn’t there. So, I walked around here, and he was laying right here. He was blue, breathing really funny, then not breathing at all. I thought he was dead.”
Roscoe’s son, who she asked not be named, had overdosed on heroin.
“They told me it was much stronger than they had seen before–a strong batch,” she said.
She called 911, and waited. Within one minute, an IMPD officer arrived with a Narcan dose in hand.
“He got a second chance at life,” she said. “If it wasn’t for that [Narcan], there would be a lot more people dead.”
“I’ve seen it used twice. I’ve used it myself once. All three times I’ve been involved with it, it’s certainly restored the breathing of someone who was probably taking their last breaths. It’s absolutely a success. I think one life saved would be a success,” Cox agreed.
Asked if he thought that success should be expanded city-wide, Cox nodded.
“Actually, I thought it already was in other districts,” he said. “But, we’ve seen huge success with it here. The nasal atomizer we use is minimally invasive. It’s simple for us to use. In training, they tell us there’s no negative side effects. It can’t be misused, really. There’s no downside.”
While Narcan has been largely successful in IMPD’s Southwest District, overdoses continue to grow on other sides of the city.
Last year, 113 people died from suspected opiate overdoses. 95 of them were from heroin.
Officers in the neighboring Southeast District, who are not carrying Narcan, have responded to three suspected fatal opiate overdoses in the last week, a commanding officer said.
Despite that, Naloxone injections given by paramedics are skyrocketing, up by 65 percent from 2013 to 2014. Over the last three months, medics have given more doses of Narcan than in any other three-month period since the drug was introduced in 2010, according to figures provided by the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety.
If that pace continues, medics will have administered more doses of Narcan by the end of August than they did in all of 2013.
SLOW TO GROW
A Department of Public Safety spokesman admitted the numbers are cause for concern. But, there are no plans at this point to immediately expand the program to additional law enforcement officers.
“The Southwest pilot program was designed to be a six-month program, and we are just past the halfway point of that period,” said DPS Communications Director Al Larsen in an email. “Certainly, the lives that have been saved by the IMPD officers involved in the pilot give us reason to feel positive about the initial results. We won’t be able to fully evaluate the pilot and finalize future plans in other districts, including funding options, until we have more complete data to review.”
“That concerns me,” Roscoe, who nearly lost her son, responded. “They can’t wait. This heroin is horrible. No matter how bad they want to stop, and they can’t believe the things they do when they’re on it, there’s no help as far as city wide. This problem is just getting worse. Waiting [to expand the Narcan program] won’t solve anything.”
Waiting could have cost her son his life. Her hope now is that others get the shot he did.
“He has a second chance at life, thanks to that officer,” Roscoe said. “And, he’s doing great. He’s met somebody now, and he got a job. He’s doing really good.”
The City-County Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee could consider additional funding to expand the IMPD Narcan program during budget hearings at the end of August.