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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

11-01-13 | By

The Effect Police Have on Overdose Deaths.

Police Response to Overdoses May Change Outcomes

A recent study conducted by Rhode Island Hospital suggests that police response to overdoses on scene could contribute to more positive outcomes for both victims and the community at large.  The study, which will be published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, had found that often police response to overdoses on scene can be seen as a medical first response but there is a lack of clarity in regards to what they can or should do in overdose situations.  The study was conducted in order to better understand the nonmedical use of opioids in both Rhode Island and Connecticut and with its findings researchers hope to find solutions to overdose deaths and to prevent outbreaks of overdoses.

police and addiction

“Police officers are often limited by available resources or protocol when it comes to responding to overdose”, said Traci Green, Ph. D., a research scientist in Rhode Island Hospital’s department of emergency medicine.  Green also asserts that in regards to police response to overdoses that some officers expressed negative attitudes towards people who engage in drug use.  However, others had shown more empathetic attitudes towards those who used drugs and were frustrated with the lack of drug treatment, addiction as a cycle of abuse, as well as the ease of access to drugs in the community. In these cases, police response to overdoses can be seen as a positive tool in helping curb overdose deaths.

In some cases, for example, police response to overdoses may include the administration of naloxone by law enforcement.  Naloxone (also known as Narcan), is the standard antidote used by paramedics to stop the overdose and start breathing in overdosing victims.  Overdose prevention and response is seen as components of not only community policing, but as good police-community relations.  In regards to police response to overdoses in their communities, it was noted in the study that the community of Quincy, Massachusetts has seen an expansion of the administration of naloxone by first responders to include police officers.

Overdoses and death due to prescription painkillers have become a significant health concern in the United States.  It has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by opioids, or prescription painkillers.  According to an article published in USA Today earlier this year, deaths due to prescription painkillers had risen for the eleventh straight year.  Deaths due to prescription painkillers are more than the combined deaths due to cocaine and heroin.

Oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentyal are the most common types of drugs that are responsible for unintentional overdoses.  In rural and suburban areas, the rates of overdoses on prescription painkillers has seen the most increases.  In these areas particularly, where there is less immediate access to medical help, police response to overdose is seen as a critical intervention piece.  Public education regarding the dangers of prescription painkillers is also seen as a potentially effective preventative measure in stemming the rising tide of overdoses.

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