WALLINGFORD — While police aren’t the first responders to medical calls, the Coalition for a Better Wallingford is pushing for officers to be trained to administer Narcan, a drug used to treat overdoses from heroin and other opioids.
Narcan blocks opioids from attaching to brain receptors. It can be administered intravenously, intramuscularly or through a nasal spray.
The coalition formed more than a year ago to raise awareness about substance abuse. In addition to pushing for a prescription drug drop box at the police station, the coalition is now advocating that police carry Narcan.
At a Town Council meeting in July, coalition members Larry and Gina Morgenstein asked Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. about equipping and training officers to use Narcan. Dickinson said he would discuss it with Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio.
Dortenzio couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
On Monday, Dickinson said Dortenzio was waiting for more information from the state before equipping officers with Narcan. It wouldn’t hurt the town to give police access to the drug, but “we need to understand what the requirements will be and how to operate efficiently,” the mayor said.
In July, Dortenzio sent a letter to Larry Morgenstein replying to his question of whether police will use Narcan in the future.
“In short, I believe so, but much work needs to occur beforehand,” Dortenzio wrote in the July 21 letter. “... At present, several branches of the State of Connecticut are discussing the potential policies, training, and administrative protocols for the use of this drug by first responders.”
Police Lt. Mark Mikulski, public information officer, said Narcan is becoming more prevalent in other states, but added that the police aren’t first responders for medical calls. While officers don’t carry Narcan, ambulances have the drug, Mikulski said.
“It certainly does have some life saving benefits. It’s an important item to have,” he said.
He added there “was no discussion at my level” to begin equipping officers with Narcan.
The Morgensteins said they were glad Dickinson and Dortenzio were researching the issue, but were frustrated with the “lack of immediacy.”
“They keep on pushing the ball down the road and saying, ‘We need to study this more,’” Larry Morgenstein said Tuesday. “There is nothing holding us back except for the administration and chief. But we do want to work with them.”
Coalition founder Ken Welch said officers should have Narcan to deal with overdoses when they arrive before an ambulance.
“Personally, it just makes too much sense,” Welch said. “Whether the police are the intended first responders or not.”
Rich Figlewski, owner of the Dry Dock, 2 Quinnipiac St., agreed with Welch.
“They’re not paramedics,” Figlewski said of police officers, “but they certainly have the ability and the skills to administer Narcan.”
In addition to having police officers equipped with Narcan, Figlewski believes it should be available wherever there is an automated external defibrillator, or AED.
Both Welch and Figlewski said Massachusetts is proof Narcan can reduce deaths. In 2007, Massachusetts launched a trial program that trained citizens to recognize an overdose and treat it with Narcan.
According to an April 2014 report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, “between December 2007 and March 2014, (Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution) programs have trained over 22,500 potential bystanders and documented over 2,655 opioid overdose reversals.”
A Connecticut law that goes into effect Oct. 1 protects good samaritans that administer Narcan.
Fire Chief Richard Heidgard said since ambulances have Narcan it may be repetitive to have police carry it.
“It’s good discussion to have and you have to look at past experiences. There hasn’t been an experience that I know of that we were on a scene without the proper medication,” Heidgerd said. “It’s almost redundant to do the training and to carry additional equipment on the police cruisers.”
In Dortenzio’s letter, he wrote that he was expecting a set of guidelines or mandates to be given to police departments throughout the state regarding the use of Narcan. Gina Morgenstein, however, said she believes the town should take action sooner rather than later.