‘We do not pick those we protect and serve’

Police in the Eagle’s coverage area step up to stop opiate overdoses

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 2, 2016


It was just a couple of weeks ago that a resident in Bloomfield Hills overdosed on an opiate narcotic.

And thanks to some quick thinking and a sometimes controversial medication, that resident’s life was saved.

“Just a few days ago, we were called to (a home) for a person having trouble breathing,” said Bloomfield Hills Public Safety Chief David Hendrickson. “Along with Star ambulance, we administered naloxone to the patient, after which he was able to breathe. The use of naloxone as an antidote helps with any opioid, and doesn’t necessarily mean the person is suffering from a heroin overdose.

The epidemic of opiate abuse — which can range from prescription painkillers to street heroin — is sweeping the country, with a surprisingly strong hold on Oakland County. The problem of drug abuse is, despite what many think, not limited to low-income neighborhoods.

“Even in our quiet community, it’s important that all of our officers are trained in the use of Narcan to counteract the effects of an opioid reaction,” he said. “We trained our officers about six months ago, and we have reviewed the protocol within the last couple of weeks.”

As the epidemic spreads, so does knowledge
On April 15, officers from 13 local communities took part in a free training session on the administration of nalaxone, also known as Narcan, which is used to immediately reverse the effects of opioids and heroin in the event of an overdose.

While some groups argue that the lifesaving drug could actually encourage addicts to further abuse narcotics, giving them a “safety net” in the event of a potentially deadly overdose, officers learned about why Narcan is becoming widely popular with law enforcement agencies across the country.

“Our goal is to equip officers with the necessary tools to help people during a crisis by first administering naloxone and then connecting them to valuable community resources that promote recovery,” Christina Nicholas, administrator of substance use disorder prevention and treatment services at the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, said in a prepared statement.

When cuffs aren’t enough
To facilitate the training, OCCMHA brought in Lt. Patrick Glynn, of the Quincy Police Department in Massachusetts. He was joined by Pamela Lynch, from the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and LERN, which stands for Law Enforcement Responds with Naloxone.

“We were thrilled to welcome Lt. Glynn and Pam Lynch to Oakland County for the extraordinary chance to train local law enforcement on saving lives from opioid and heroin overdoses,” Nicholas added in the statement.

Between them, Glynn and Lynch have more than 50 years of drug abuse and overdose prevention and advocacy experience. Lynch specifically has developed harm reduction programs and substance abuse disorder treatment programming for municipalities around the world.

The LERN program aims to educate officers in the basics of addiction neurobiology, and the impact of over-prescribed medications and substance misuse. That and the commonly conveyed stigmas and misinformation about the disease of addiction can be barriers to treatment and prevention.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of this epidemic,” Glynn told officers during the training. “We do not pick those we protect and serve.”

A danger closer than we think
While EMT officers were the ones who administered Narcan to the Bloomfield Hills resident April 26, Hendrickson said all Bloomfield Hills officers are equipped with Narcan, which can be administered by a shot or a nasal spray.

Beverly Hills public safety officers were at the training session, though they too have had Narcan available for some time now.

“Since we are a public safety department, all of our officers are trained to at least the level of first responder, and we respond to all medical emergencies. As such, we have had Narcan for a while now, as well as EpiPens,” said Lt. Michael Vargas, of the Beverly Hills Public Safety Department.

Birmingham police don’t carry Narcan, according to Cmdr. Scott Grewe, but Birmingham fire personnel do.

“They’ve got a really quick response time, and they’re trained, so we rely on them if the need arises,” Grewe said.

Bloomfield Township police officers were at the training April 15, though Capt. Phil Langmeyer said he hasn’t heard back from his team yet as to how it went.

“We sent our officers to train so we could get information about it,” Langmeyer said. “We don’t equip our officers with Narcan, and that’s what we were there for — if we decide to go that route, we’ll be prepared.”

Langmeyer said the township isn’t unlike other communities in the Eagle’s coverage area, and overdose cases have occurred. Narcan was utilized by EMTs in those cases, he said, but it’s still up in the air whether the officers themselves should administer the vital dose.

“We want to find out who else is doing it, though I know a number of other departments are,” he said. “There are storage concerns and different administration questions we have. But I have no doubt that (the officers) will come back to me and say it was good training and something we need to do.”

The officers present for training were allowed to request free naloxone kits for their department. OCCHMA partnered with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office late last year to provide about 150 naloxone nasal spray kits — a year’s supply — to deputies. According to a press release from Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, his department saved 17 individuals from overdose deaths between March and November of 2015 because of naloxone.

“I personally fought for law enforcement to have the ability to carry and administer Narcan in the Michigan Legislature. We launched our program as soon as the bill was signed into law,” Bouchard said in that release.

“The successful partnership we established with the Sheriff’s Office provided the foundation for us to build upon as we continue to identify solutions to the opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing our nation,” Nicholas added.

For more information about LERN and naloxone kits, visit www.occmha.org.