- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The head of Rhode Island’s police chiefs association says his organization will take up health officials’ request for municipal officers to carry the anti-overdose drug naloxone, as the state health department considers issuing emergency regulations to ease the way.

Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association President Elwood Johnson Jr. said he thinks carrying naloxone makes sense but wants to know more about the cost, training and potential liability.

“It is something that I think each municipality should have an opportunity to decide individually,” Said Johnson, the police chief in Richmond. The group meets again next month.

The state health department has reported a sharp spike in fatal overdoses this year, with 45 deaths through Wednesday, double the usual number. There has been an increase in deaths associated with the use of fentanyl, a powerful painkiller implicated in dozens of fatalities in the Northeast, in some cases in combination with heroin.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a prescription medication that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. Emergency responders in Rhode Island already use it.

As part of a response to what health officials have called an overdose epidemic, Col. Steven O’Donnell, the superintendent of state police, announced recently that troopers would be trained in the administration of Narcan and that all of them will begin carrying it.

The health department director, Dr. Michael Fine, wants all municipal police departments to do the same. At a Board of Pharmacy meeting Thursday, he said he’s considering issuing emergency regulations to clear the way for law enforcement to obtain and administer the drug.

Narcan, which comes as a nasal spray and in an injectable form, is already available at any Walgreens to anyone who wants it under an effort of the pharmacy chain, The Miriam Hospital and the pharmacy board. Under the “collaborative practice agreement,” Dr. Josiah Rich, an addiction specialist at Miriam, has agreed to serve as the standing prescriber for patients who walk in and request the drug. They can get it immediately.

Rich said he has heard anecdotally of several overdose reversals because of the drug’s availability.

“I think it’s a novel approach, and it’s gaining steam,” he said. “If it saves one person’s life, then it’s an overwhelming success.”

The program has expanded from an initial pilot at several Walgreens to all 26 in the state. Health officials say they have had conversations with Rite Aid and CVS as well. Fine said he would agree to serve as the prescriber if additional collaborative practice agreements are drawn up.

The current agreement calls for two doses to be given out at once. The cost for the spray is $45, while the injectable is $25, according to Leo Lariviere, pharmacy supervisor for Walgreens in the state and a member of the pharmacy board.

“We’re happy to partner with the state to make this happen,” he said.

Rhode Island also enacted in 2012 a “Good Samaritan” law that protects from prosecution individuals who call police to report an overdose, even if drugs are found at the scene. The statute also protects from civil liability or criminal prosecution those who administer naloxone to someone they believe has overdosed.

Health officials say that while Narcan can be an important tool in preventing overdose deaths, substance abuse treatment is even more critical.

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