In the state of Virginia, opioid overdoses have become more common than both gun- and vehicle-related accidents. It’s a growing problem nationally, and local and state governments are scrambling to combat the epidemic.
For James City County residents in the throes of addiction, local police officers want to be there to help.
The James City County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday night to accept a $2,025 grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, which will allow the police department to purchase naloxone for patrol officers to carry with them.
Naloxone is a potentially life-saving drug that is given to a person after they overdose.
The grant will add another 27 units – or 54 doses – to the department’s current supply of naloxone.
“We wanted to be proactive in addressing the opioid crisis,” police department spokeswoman Stephanie Williams said. “There have been increases in opioid-related overdoses throughout the nation, including in the Hampton Roads area.”
Last year, overdose deaths were at some of their highest rates since 2007 in the Historic Triangle, according to a July 2017 report from the Virginia Department of Health.
The health department reported on 14 overdose deaths in 2016 in the Historic Triangle, but 2017 data indicates overdoses are on the rise.
The James City County Police Department was first awarded a $4,500 grant for naloxone in September 2016, Williams said. The grant was given by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
The department purchased 60 units, which contain two doses each, equipping the entire police force.
“We wanted to make sure our officers were equipped and able to provide potentially life-saving care to overdose victims we may come in contact with,” Williams said.
Williams said there are 56 officers who are trained to use naloxone.
When naloxone is used or expires, it must be replaced with a fresh dose, Williams said. Naloxone expires about one and a half to two years after it is made, she added.
From 2007-2015, opioids made up about 75 percent of all fatal drug overdoses in Virginia, according to the health department report.
In November 2016, State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine declared Virginia’s opioid crisis a public health emergency, meaning Virginians can obtain naloxone from any pharmacy.
Giving naloxone to police officers is just one more step toward a safer community, Williams said.
“Law enforcement officers arrive first on scene to overdose victims, even prior to [emergency medical technicians],” Williams said. “Now with this naloxone, we can administer it first.”
WYDaily archives were used in this story.