Gearing up for ‘antidote’ drug

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


North Arlington is among the first communities in Bergen County – and New Jersey – to undertake proactive efforts to save the lives of people who overdose on heroin or opioids by outfitting EMS and police with an “antidote” drug.

On July 31, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder set the stage for a nationwide response to the growing numbers of drug overdoses – many triggered by street dealers’ sales of heroin or prescription pain relievers – when he called for law enforcement agents to “arm” themselves with naloxone.

If administered correctly, naloxone (also known as narcan) can revive someone from an overdose.

So far, 17 states, including New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, have authorized cops’ use of the drug and state and municipal police have amended their operational policies accordingly.

The U.S. Justice Department has reported that, on average, 110 Americans die from drug overdoses each day – more than the number of fatalities resulting from gunshot wounds or car crashes. And more than half of those overdoses are attributed to heroin or other opioids.

Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths alone rose by 45%, according to the Justice Department.

In North Arlington, Councilman Richard Hughes, liaison to the borough First Aid Squad, said the borough’s paid Emergency Medical Service and the Volunteer Ambulance (First Aid) Squad recently completed training in how to administer naloxone to “reverse the effects of opioids including respiratory depression, sedation and hypotension.”

Both the EMS and First Aid Squad applied for – and received – permission from the state Department of Health to administer the drug.

Hughes said that all borough emergency responders have been trained in the use of naloxone by paramedic Dennis Kruk, a member of the borough EMS, and Dr. Joseph Katora, an emergency medicine specialist with the U.S. Navy who has volunteered to serve as medical director for the local EMS teams.

Jim Sackerman, a borough EMS supervisor, said that North Arlington’s four ambulances and a first responder vehicle have all been equipped with naloxone kits “and we have two back-up units in our office.”

The drug – which costs about $20 for a 2mg dosage – should remain effective for a year and a half to two years, he said.

Sackerman said the drug is administered as a nasal spray – 1mg through each nostril – “the maximum dosage we are permitted to give. My understanding is the [borough] police have a higher protocol.”

“The aim is to get the person’s respiratory count back up to normal,” Sackerman said. “It is not a cure for drug addiction,” he added.

Hughes said the drug’s use is to be limited to cases where it appears that someone’s life is in danger due to an overdose. “Hopefully, the emergency responders will have to use naloxone no more than five or 10 times a year. It’s a treatment of last resort,” he said.

Just in the last two months, based on what he’s observed during his EMS shifts, Sackerman said, “There were three situations where naloxone could have been used. … “There’s definitely a need for this program.”

Meanwhile, Police Chief Louis Ghione said he has sent borough Police Officer Thomas Farrell for naloxone training, sponsored by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, and conducted by Dr. Marc Dreier, director of the mobile intensive care unit at Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, so that Farrell, in turn, can help train other borough officers.

Ghione said the prosecutor’s office has acquired 325 naloxone kits, to be spread among municipal police departments around Bergen County who opt to participate in the training. “We got eight of those kits,” he said, “which we will distribute among our patrol units. Training of our officers is the next phase of the operation we’ll be participating in.”

In neighboring Lyndhurst, about one-third of the Police Department has been trained in the use of the drug, according to Det. Capt. John Valente. The department has obtained five naloxone kits, he said. “Once everyone has been trained, we’ll be out there with the drug.”

Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, said: “We’re in the early stages of pulling together a [naloxone] training program and we’ve been in touch with the local departments about that.”

And Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Staff Gene Rubino said the office has completed a “first round” of training with Dr. Kenneth Lavelle, an emergency medicine specialist for Jefferson University Hospitals, who has provided extensive training in Ocean County. “We are currently surveying the needs of our 12 municipalities and we expect to implement the program in late fall.”

The Observer Staff