Defeating one opioid overdose, one nasal spray at a time. That’s how the Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO) is going about the fight against the opioid epidemic.
Sheriff deputies in Broward have been armed with overdose reversal nasal sprays since June, but the Florida Sheriffs Association just gave BSO a big boost by shipping 1,200 units of the medication this week so more deputies are able to carry it on them every day.
Narcan, or naloxone, is a medication that can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose in an emergency. It acts as an antidote for narcotics in the body and can be administered as a nasal spray or a shot.
All officers have to do if they see someone who is suspected of overdosing on narcotics is to administer the nasal spray and help get the patient to a hospital for treatment.
"Our firefighters have administered Narcan for years, so I recognized the importance of putting this opiate antidote in the hands of our deputies, who are often the first to arrive on scene," Sheriff Scott Israel said in a statement Tuesday.
BSO's director of community programs, David Scharf, said he's sick and tired of seeing an average of two deaths in the county per day because of overdoses. He also said a community action team that came together at the start of the epidemic for the synthetic drug, Flakka, is now focused on opioids.
"I don't want people to think Narcan is the solution. It's only a piece of it," Scharf said. "It gives us the ability to save people right away."
The BSO donation came at the same time that the drugstore chain Walgreens announced it will stock the drug in all of its 8,000 locations across the country. Pharmacists are using demo devices to be able to teach the average person who comes in to shop how to use the nasal spray.
In Broward County alone, 582 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, according to the county's chief medical examiner, Dr. Craig Mallak. And that number is expected to go up for this year by at least a few hundred.
Mallak explained the science of how Narcan works in the brain: "The opioids are attached to certain receptors in the respiratory center of your brain. And the Narcan will knock it off and go into that receptor, like a little cup on the cell," he said. "And the drug will sit there... But eventually, it can be overwhelmed by the narcotics."
Strong narcotics, like Fentanyl that's being found in heroin, can overwhelm Narcan as it's trying to work in the brain to save someone's life. That's why, Mallak said, multiple doses may be needed to help bring someone out of a deep overdose.
Scharf went on to add that BSO is concerned that 2016's opioid deaths could even top 1,000 in Broward County this year.
As soon as Narcan is given to anyone, it's only a temporary fix until the person can get to a hospital. The next step is to always call 9-1-1.