Police officers turn to opioid-blocking naloxone to save lives in Sonoma County
Fast-acting officers helped save a Petaluma woman’s life Tuesday when they gave her an opioid overdose-blocking medicine that’s become increasingly popular among Sonoma County police departments in recent months.
Officers found the unresponsive woman, identified as being in her 30s, inside a parked car on Hayes Lane, a residential area on the west side of town. A friend called police at about 3:05 p.m. to report they had smoked heroin and that the woman may have had too much.
Officers arrived two minutes before the paramedics and found the woman wasn’t breathing. She started overdosing about eight minutes prior, police said. Not wanting to wait any longer, one of the officers grabbed a dose of naloxone and squeezed it into the woman’s nose.
“After about 20 seconds, she started showing signs that she was improving,” Petaluma Police Lt. Brian Miller said.“This is the first time that we’ve administered the medication and they’ve survived.”
Petaluma officers have used naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, on a handful of occasions, since the department this spring equipped each sworn employee with the medicine and trained them how to use it. Although before Tuesday, attempts to revive other people who have overdosed had not been successful.
The antidote comes in the form of a nasal spray and works by blocking opiates from attaching to receptors in the brain, reversing the drug’s effects.
Police departments in three other Sonoma County cities — Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg — are among the growing group of law enforcement agencies outfitting officers with the potentially life-saving medication in Northern California.
All four agencies cited the rising number of opioid-related deaths across the country as the reason for investing in naloxone programs.
In 2016, fatal opioid-related overdoses happened at a rate of 13.3 per 100,000 people nationwide, up from 5 in 2010, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. California’s rate was much lower, 4.9 per every 100,000 people, in 2016 and has remained steady in recent years, though some counties fare better than others.
Police said they’re also turning to naloxone because of the increased presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described as 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. While pharmaceutical companies sell the drug, an uptick in fentanyl-related deaths in recent years is likely linked to illegally- produced versions of the drug.
Officers are susceptible to coming in contact with fentanyl while on the job and also could benefit from naloxone. Such was the case this summer when two undercover Alameda County narcotics investigators were hospitalized during a Hayward motel drug raid when they came in contact with fentanyl while searching one of the rooms. Narcan was used to help one of the detectives who experienced respiratory problems after being exposed to a microscopic cloud of fentanyl.
In Sonoma County, the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety became the first to equip its officers with Narcan in December 2017.
The agency saw early success when Narcan helped save the life of a 67-year-old man suspected of overdosing on heroin on Jan. 27. Two weeks later, officers used the medication again when they found an unresponsive 22-year-old man inside a Racquet Club Circle home who showed signs of opioid overdose.