Wallowa County law enforcement is armed with a life-saving drug.
Winding Waters Clinic presented Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office and Enterprise Police Department with boxes of Narcan Aug. 20.
Narcan is the brand name for the drug most commonly used to treat heroin opioid overdoses. Treatment of overdose with Narcan falls under the “Good Samaritan Laws” in the state of Oregon. Law enforcement officers, who are often first responders, do not have to have special legal protections to administer the drug.
Opioid overdose deaths are on the rise in Oregon, and Wallowa County has the dubious distinction of being one of only three places in Oregon where an especially dangerous synthetic opioid, Carfentanil, has been found.
According to The Centers for Disease Control, fentynal is 80-100 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin. Carfentanil, a synthetic fentynal, is 5,000 times more potent than heroin.
“If it’s here, there’s a possibility of someone overdosing.” said Enterprise Police Chief Joel Fish.
As a former Police Chief in North Carolina, the state with the second highest increase in opioid deaths in 2018, Fish is familiar with Narcan.
The grassroots organization, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, estimated that 1,214 law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have implemented Narcan programs and reported 403 rescues in North Carolina alone as of February 2017.
“The thing to remember is you’re not going to hurt anyone,” said Winding Waters Quality Director Meg Bowen. “If they’re having a heart attack or stroke, it’s not going to make anything worse.”
In most cases, one dose of the nasal spray version of Narcan local law enforcement will be carrying is enough to bring a person out of overdose within minutes.
The only serious warning that comes with the drug is for law enforcement officers. Overdose victims sometimes “come back” from near death really angry. Their high is gone and they are in immediate withdrawal.
“You may want them in handcuffs before you shove this up their nose,” said Sheriff Steve Rogers, whose department has used Narcan in Wallowa County in the past.
Overdoses can happen to individuals who are not a criminal risk, too. According to OHSU rural scholar Will Hockett, individuals older than 65 are most at risk for accidental overdose of prescribed pain medications, which they may be taking for serious conditions including cancer.
Hockett, who is currently working at Winding Waters Clinic as part of his clinical rotation toward a medical degree, was part of the group that supplied and trained officers in the use of Narcan.
He was following up on a program begun by the former OHSU rural scholar Nick West whose research revealed that Wallowa County was one of the top five opioid prescribing counties in the state in 2015.
Plans to address that issue were introduced, and Winding Waters Clinic endorsed equipping law enforcement agencies with Narcan.
Every law enforcement vehicle in Wallowa County will carry two nasal spray applicators per vehicle; two because if the amount of heroin is high, the individual treated may pass out a second time.
Wallowa County ambulances are prepared to deal with repeated dosages and in some hospital settings, a drip of Narcan is established.
Enterprise Police officers took part in a training on recently. Wallowa County deputies had already received training.