Police across Union County deploying Narcan in effort to combat overdose deaths

A powerful medication capable of reversing the often-fatal effects of heroin overdoses has been distributed to police officers countywide, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park said Tuesday in a joint announcement made with the Union County Police Chiefs Association and its various members.

On Friday the Prosecutor’s Office distributed a total of 200 Narcan kits among the county’s 21 municipal departments, with all of the kits available for immediate use. An aerosol form of the drug naloxone, Narcan is administered to sufferers of a heroin overdose nasally through use of a device known as an atomizer.

The kits were priced at approximately $30 per unit, and federal forfeiture funds used to cover the costs. Officers in every department already have undergone training illustrating precisely how to administer Narcan, and the kits are being deployed in patrol vehicles countywide.

“The Union County Police Chiefs Association applauds and supports the aggressive approach by Prosecutor Park in addressing this growing problem,” association president and Roselle Park Police Chief Paul Morrison said. “This Narcan procedure reverses the effects of a heroin overdose and will surely prove to be a lifesaving tool in the fight against heroin addiction.”

Union County recorded 42 fatal drug overdoses in 2013, with 45 occurring in 2012 for a two-year total of 87. Thirty-nine of those 87 fatal overdoses involved heroin, according to records compiled by the Union County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Plans for police to utilize Narcan in Union County started being formulated early this year. During a press conference held last month, Governor Chris Christie said that police in all 21 New Jersey counties soon will start administering Narcan to overdose victims, as a pilot program launched in April in Ocean and Monmouth counties has been credited with reversing more than 40 overdoses to date. Acting New Jersey Attorney General John Jay Hoffman announced during the press conference that the New Jersey State Police also are moving forward with the Narcan initiative, with 900 kits having been ordered to ensure that every State Police patrol vehicle is equipped.

New Jersey’s Narcan program traces its roots to a collaboration between the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and Dr. Kenneth Lavelle, an emergency room physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Working together, they developed a template modeled after a successful program launched in another state.

Union County police departments requiring replenishments of their Narcan supplies will be able to acquire them independently on an as-needed basis. The distribution of the Narcan kits will supplement continuing outreach efforts by the Prosecutor’s Office to spread awareness about the harmful effects of heroin addiction and addiction to prescription painkillers – office representatives have organized or participated in informational forums addressing the topic in half a dozen Union County municipalities during the last year.

“During these forums, we routinely hear firsthand accounts of how addiction of this nature destroys lives and leaves entire families devastated. In a word, it’s heartbreaking,” Park said. “The use of Narcan has proven to save lives.  And although it’s not a cure to the powerful disease of heroin and opiate addiction, it gives us a chance to prevent the many tragic and senseless deaths that stem from this addiction. This is one step toward fighting the growing epidemic of heroin overdoses in this state. ”