All Portland police patrol officers Friday started carrying Narcan, the opioid antidote that can prevent fatal overdoses.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said all patrol officers have been trained to properly administer the drug, which revives patients who have lost consciousness from an overdose.

Portland joins several other Maine communities – including Bangor, Westbrook and Skowhegan, as well as the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office – where patrol officers are trained to give Narcan during drug overdoses. Kennebec County was the first agency to start having police officers administer Narcan, in 2015.

“I don’t think Narcan is a long-term solution, but it is a miracle drug that saves lives,” Sauschuck said at a news conference Friday.

Sauschuck said 120 patrol officers have Narcan and will use it if the officers are on the scene of a drug overdose before Portland Fire Department emergency crews arrive. So far this year, police have responded to about 200 drug overdose calls, he said.

Fatal drug overdoses have continued to climb as Maine grapples with the opioid epidemic. There were 272 drug overdose deaths in Maine in 2015, most caused by heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids. Through the first six months of 2016, 189 people died in Maine from drug overdoses.


Dr. Mary Dowd, who works with opioid addicts at the Milestone Foundation’s detox center in Portland, said it’s “great” that Portland police are now using Narcan because “people are overdosing all the time.”

At Milestone, patients who have overdosed are stabilized, and medical workers try to connect people with treatment and other resources during their stay of a few days, although that’s difficult because of the lack of opioid treatment available in Maine, especially for those without insurance. But the first step, Dowd said, is to keep alive those suffering from substance abuse.

“If they’re not alive, you can’t help them anymore,” Dowd said.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said in a statement that he supported the move, noting that the recovery community has been pushing for first responders to be equipped with Narcan.

The move comes after Gov. Paul LePage this year vetoed legislation to expand access to naloxone, the generic name for Narcan, saying that making the antidote available does not address the root causes of the drug problem and that keeping it on hand “serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”

“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote in his veto letter. He was heavily criticized for his view on naloxone, and the Legislature overrode the veto.


Sauschuck said if paramedics arrive first at the scene of a drug overdose, they – and not police officers – would administer Narcan.

Sauschuck said patrol officers have told him they are increasingly finding themselves at drug overdose scenes giving CPR before medics arrive, and the officers believed that having Narcan on hand would be another useful tool to save lives.

In Portland, firefighters or emergency medical personnel administered Narcan 161 times in 2015. This year through the end of July, the Fire Department said naloxone was used 63 times, a decrease from 86 in the same seven-month period of 2015.

“Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been working on a three-pronged strategy to fight addiction by increasing our educational efforts, community awareness and facilitating treatment through our Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program,” Sauschuck said in a statement. “Having our officers carry Narcan is a logical component to this effort for those times in which we are the first to arrive on scene.”

The Police Department received the Narcan doses free of charge from the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Attorney General Janet Mills is distributing the antidote in an effort to equip more first responders with the lifesaving drug. Her office has distributed at least 866 doses of the nasal spray to several law enforcement agencies, including 150 in Portland.

In August, Mills’ office had spent $76,500 to buy 2,040 doses from AdaptPharma, which produces the nasal spray form of the drug. To pay for the program, Mills has drawn from the consumer trust fund, a pot of money built from court settlements that is controlled by the attorney general and is used to fund the consumer protection division and other initiatives at the attorney general’s discretion.


In Westbrook, all 39 officers have been trained to use Narcan, and have used it eight times since February, when it was first handed out to police, said Chief Janine Roberts.

“There’s definitely a need and a benefit,” Roberts said. “It gets the medication into the patients a minute or two faster than they would have received it otherwise.”

She said it’s difficult to know whether any of the eight would have died prior to medics arriving, but it’s possible the measure has already saved lives.

Nationwide and in Maine, more people now die from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle accidents.


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