Each deputy sheriff in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department will now carry a life-saving medication after a successful pilot program.
In July 2014, the department was the first law enforcement agency in California to carry narcan, also known as naloxone.
The drug is designed to prevent a drug overdose, and since more than 300 San Diegans are expected to die from heroin or prescription opiate overdoses this year, the sheriff’s department is at the forefront of a national effort to reduce those deaths.
After a successful six month pilot program that started in July 2014, the department announced it would provide the medication to each deputy sheriff on patrol and would give the medication to all patrol stations and substations.
During the pilot program at the Santee Patrol Station, 11 people were revived by deputies called to an overdose emergency.
A number of East Coast police departments have implemented the use of Narcan, but the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department will be the biggest agency in the nation to approve the drug.
UC San Diego researcher Peter Davidson explained Narcan comes in a small kit with an applicator to create a nasal spray.
A squirt in each nostril, like a flu vaccine, puts the medication in the bloodstream. It quickly interrupts the opiate response, which restores the addict’s ability to breath and increases the heart rate.
“The deaths were rising, and it was really at epidemic levels,” said Sheriff’s Capt. James Bovet when asked about overdoses.
In places like Santee, Lakeside and rural El Cajon areas, emergency response times can be longer. In those places, deputies often arrive at emergencies before paramedics.
“If sheriff’s deputies get there a few minutes -- even a few seconds – before and can administer a life-saving dose of Narcan, why wouldn’t we be a part of that?” said Bovet.
Gretchen Burns Bergman, a drug reform advocate, has two sons who have struggled with drug addiction.
She has heard people write off drug addicts and say, "They chose that. Let them die."
But she believes every life is worth saving, even if a person chose to do the drugs in the first place.
“Absolutely. Nobody in our society is expendable. We shouldn’t have become a throw-away society,” said Bergman.
Bovet agrees. He became interested in Narcan in 2010, when seven San Diego teens died of opiate overdoses.
No deputy wants to see anyone die – for any reason – Bovet said.
“With Narcan, they’ll be able to administer a dose very easily, very quickly, when the symptomology is right, and perhaps save a life right away,” said Bovet.