Canton, Potsdam police mull use of heroin overdose revival kits
Sunday, June 29, 2014 - 8:45 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

Members of police departments in Potsdam and Canton might soon be carrying kits to counter the potentially lethal effects of heroin overdoses.

But acceptance of the idea and the equipment will not be automatic.

“We’re in the process of review,” said Canton Police Chief Lori McDougal. “Liability is a concern. There are still some unanswered questions.”

Potsdam Police Chief Kevin Bates said he had heard that the state attorney general had extended the deadline for applying for grants, but the Potsdam Police Department has already been approved for the money.

“We have approval for training of officers, and then we’ll be able to get the prescriptions so each officer can carry it,” Bates said.

The naloxone anti-overdose kits typically include instructions and either a nasal spray or an “auto injector” similar to the “epi pen” used by people with severe allergies.

The training of officers will involve recognizing when the drug is called for, and how to administer it.

Naloxone is described as an “opioid antagonist” that goes by the brand name Narcan, among others. It’s not addictive and won’t get anybody high, but apparently has been effective in hospital settings in countering the deadly effects of a heroin overdose.

The idea for police to carry the kits is the result of what has been described as an epidemic of heroin abuse in the county, the state, and nationwide.

“I think it’s a great idea. An officer is often the first to arrive on the scene and will be able to administer the Narcan if that’s what the situation calls for,” Bates said.

Authorities have said that heroin is more easily obtained and provides a cheaper high than the prescription painkillers that have themselves become a much-abused drug in recent years.

No one denies that being prepared with the overdose kits might be appropriate, particularly in light of a recent rapid increase in the number of heroin arrests and seizures in the county. But the police chiefs in Potsdam and Canton can’t think of a case so far where they would have made use of the overdose antidote.

“Fortunately we haven’t had that many issues with that type of overdose but we could get more” with the growth of heroin abuse in the North Country, Bates said.

“We haven’t had any calls of this nature yet,” Chief McDougal said, but like Chief Bates, she believes the possibility of heroin overdoses in St. Lawrence County is on the rise.

McDougal said she had received notice of a $3,780 grant for the kits and the training, but wants to learn more before proceeding.

McDougal said she has been in touch with other first responders, and says there are still some concerns about the program

She said she hopes some of the questions she and others have will be answered at the next meeting of police chiefs in the county. Those meetings are regularly convened by St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells, who uses them to disseminate the latest information he has on police operations.