New Orleans police to carry naloxone, hailed as 'miracle drug'

Accidental overdoses claimed more lives last year than the city's relentless gun violence


Jim Mustian
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

NEW ORLEANS — As New Orleans grapples with a scourge of drug-related deaths, city leaders announced Wednesday that police officers soon will begin carrying naloxone, an opiate antidote that has been hailed as a miracle drug for its ability to prevent fatal overdoses.

The move is part of a broader push by Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration to stem the tide of accidental overdoses in New Orleans, an epidemic that claimed more lives last year than the city's relentless gun violence.

The campaign includes new efforts to educate the public about addiction treatment, a plan officials described as a "road map" for addressing a public health crisis that seems to know no demographic, economic or social borders.

"There are many people trapped in addiction, and they're unable to work themselves through this very powerful dependency that easily develops from opioid use," Landrieu said Wednesday at a news conference at University Medical Center. "This is a problem that courses through every neighborhood and everybody that we know."

Wednesday's announcement reflected the growing concern among city, state and federal authorities about the opioid epidemic, which has been fueled in recent years by the proliferation of synthetic opiates like Fentanyl, an extremely potent designer drug that is often used by narcotics dealers to "cut" or dilute supplies of heroin.

Overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States, having surpassed traffic accidents in that category, and Louisiana's opioid deaths are outpacing the national average.

In New Orleans, opioids were discovered in 166 drug-related deaths in 2016, up from 81 such deaths the year before, according to the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office.

Nationally, there were 250 million prescriptions written for opioids in 2015, or enough to give every adult in the United States a bottle of pills. A federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found there were more opioid prescriptions than people in Louisiana in 2012, with 118 prescriptions for every 100 people.

"As physicians, we've got to do a lot more to cut down on the number of prescriptions we're writing," said Dr. Joseph Kanter, medical director for the New Orleans Health Department.

"We're going to work really hard to connect people with addiction to the treatment that they need," he added.

One of the main components of the Landrieu administration's campaign involves the distribution of naloxone — also known by its brand name, Narcan — to hundreds of patrol officers. Naloxone is injected or sprayed into the nose and enters the bloodstream almost instantly, reversing the effects of heroin within minutes.

Administered for decades by emergency room doctors and paramedics, it is increasingly being carried by law enforcement officials in Louisiana and elsewhere.

Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said the department's entire patrol division will be equipped with the medication in coming months.

The city's firefighters and paramedics already carry naloxone and administered it hundreds of times in 2015 and 2016. The medication also is available at pharmacies statewide without a prescription and at Metropolitan Human Services District clinics. It has no addictive potential and may be administered by laypersons.

The city's response also includes a push to have residents discard medications they no longer need rather than keeping them indefinitely in their homes. Officials said they will partner with local pharmacies to increase the number of "safe medication disposal sites" throughout the community.

Officials also will be working to connect surviving overdose victims to treatment resources, an effort that is supported by a Bureau of Justice grant worth about $300,000 over three years.

"We know very well that this is something that we can’t do alone," said Dr. Marsha Broussard, director of the city's Health Department.

Broussard added that the "most important component" of the plan is the public. "What we have here is a road map," she said.

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©2017 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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