Augusta’s MaineGeneral Medical Center is among those to receive federal funding aimed at arming police with tools to save the lives of those who overdose on heroin and prescription pain pills.

MaineGeneral and the Down East AIDS Network have each received $100,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration to prepare rural law enforcement officers and others to administer to naloxone, which can reverse an overdose long enough to get a patient to the hospital.

MaineGeneral last year used funding from a variety of sources to train Kennebec County sheriff’s deputies on the use of naloxone and hopes to train five additional sheriff’s departments that patrol in rural areas, according to Natalie Morse, director of the Center for Prevention and Healthy Living at MaineGeneral.

Morse said sheriff’s departments in Aroostook, Knox, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties have signed up for the training so far. Sheriff’s deputies are often the first ones on the scene when there is a report of an overdose of heroin or an opiate-based prescription drug, such as oxycodone. Morse said the grant also will be used to encourage physicians to prescribe naloxone to those at risk of an overdose and to increase training and the number of kits available to patients at risk for an overdose and their families.

“This grant is really thinking about who responds when a person overdoses in a rural area,” Morse said.

Heroin overdoses have spiked in Maine and around the country. Drug overdoses now surpass car crashes as the leading cause of injury-related deaths for Americans between 25 and 65, claiming the lives of more than 100 people every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of those overdoses are the result of the use of prescription drugs or heroin.

In Maine, a record 208 people died from drug overdoses in 2014, according to a news release from Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. Heroin, fentanyl and prescription opiates are the primary drugs involved in those overdoses.

Naloxone immediately blocks the opiates from being absorbed, giving the person time to get to a hospital for treatment.

“They basically stop breathing and die,” Morse said. “The antidote blocks that medication immediately. It’s essential to get it to someone if they are overdosing.”

Kennebec County Interim Sheriff Ryan Reardon said all of his deputies received more than four hours of training last year in how to use naloxone, and all of them now patrol with two doses. He said none of his deputies has had to give a treatment yet, but the value of the training is that the deputies are prepared if called upon to do so.

“It was an opportunity to expand the chance that we might save a life,” Reardon said. “I don’t want that opportunity to arise, but it’s nice to know we’re ready for it if it does.”

Mills has joined attorneys general from 37 other states in calling on federal lawmakers to pass the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, which would, in part, expand the availability of naloxone to law enforcement agencies and other first responders.

Mills said in the release that only about 10 percent of the people who need treatment are receiving it.

“While heroin and opioid abuse are the primary concern for states right now, we must move beyond simple responses to drug trends and emerging threats, and concentrate on improving addiction treatment and recovery nationwide,” Mills said.

Morse said MaineGeneral has piloted a program that gave naloxone to patients at a pain clinic who were at an elevated risk for an accidental overdose.

“We had numerous reports from people who did experience an overdose,” Morse said. “We do know that some of the naloxone out in the community has been used successfully.”

The same has been true with law enforcement across the country, Morse said. She hopes over time the antidote will be readily available.

“Hopefully, it can buy time, not only to prevent the overdose, but to allow families to have conversations about treatment,” Morse said. “If they don’t survive the overdose, they won’t have that opportunity.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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