RACINE — With the opioid crisis at epidemic proportions nationwide, the Racine Police Department has decided to start arming its officers with Narcan, a medication used as an antidote to the effects of opioids.
“Not only do we want to carry Narcan because heroin overdoses are an issue in our community, but there is also a recent concern of potential accidental overdoses of officers,” said Lt. Steven Wagner, a 27-year veteran of the department in charge of training officers.
According to a Department of Justice officer safety bulletin issued in May, “officers across the nation have recently suffered accidental overdoses after being exposed to very strong narcotics during calls for assistance.” The bulletin cites five nationwide instances in the past year in which officers were hospitalized due to accidental overdoses.
The accidental officer overdoses are attributed to airborne and residual transfer of fentanyl, which the bulletin says is 50 times more potent than heroin, and carfentanil, an animal tranquilizer 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
Although carrying Narcan (naloxone, under its generic name) had been discussed by the department in the past, after the bulletin was released the Racine Police Department decided to implement Narcan as a tool for officers.
“The push this year has been due to the increase of opioid overdoses and the medical effect it’s having on law enforcement,” Wagner said. “It’s better to err on the side of caution, then wait for the bottom line.”
In August, officers underwent mandatory training in how to administer Narcan. On Nov. 1, officers began carrying Narcan.
“I think it was important to implement a program that could be useful if citizenry or officers are in need,” Wagner said.
Joining the ranks
The Racine County Sheriff’s Office first equipped its patrol cars with Narcan in February 2014 and recently marked its 28th save of an overdose victim. Caledonia Police Department officers also began carrying Narcan in 2014, Caledonia Lt. Gary Larsen said. The Sturtevant Police Department also began carrying Narcan in 2014, Chief Marschke said.
The Racine Fire Department also carries Narcan, Wagner said. He credits the Fire Department’s efficient and quick response to medical emergencies as a reason the Police Department had not needed to use Narcan until now.
“We have the pleasure of having a close, full-time Fire Department that is extremely reactive,” Wagner said.
Although no officers have had to use Narcan in the first month since they have been carrying it, they are grateful to have another tool at their disposal, Wagener said.
“I think it’s beneficial for the department and the community,” Wagner said. “Narcan is no no different than CPR. It’s a tool we can use, if needed.”