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Chief: Department equipped with tool that can prevent overdose deaths

By Keeli Parkey

The Erwin Police Department is now one of only a handful of law enforcement agencies equipped with naloxone – a tool that can be used to rescue someone suffering from an overdose caused by an opioid drug.

“We have quite the opioid prescription drug problem in Tennessee,” Chief Regan Tilson recently told The Erwin Record. “We are number one in the nation in prescribing opioids. In 2013, overdoses surpassed vehicle crashes, homicides and suicides as the number one cause of death in Tennessee. That’s concerning. … Opioid pain medicine contributed to more than 50 percent of those deaths. …When you think about an opioid, you probably think about heroin. So is suboxone, methadone, lortab, oxycontin, oxycodone, morphine – there is a list that we see a lot.”

Tilson also said that deaths due to drug overdoses in the state have tripled since 1999.

In response to this epidemic, Tennessee passed the Tennessee Naloxone Rescue Act, which went into effect in July 2014.

“What it does is allow a healthcare professional to prescribe naloxone to a person at risk of having an opioid overdose, or a family member of the individual at risk if they take the training on the Tennessee Department of Health website,” Tilson said. “The law allows law enforcement officers to do that as well.”

Naloxone, which is also known as Narcan®, is an opioid antagonist which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, according to Tilson.

The law also provides immunity from civil prosecution, for the prescriber and the individual administering naloxone.

Tilson said following training with Dr. David Kirschke, medical director with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department, he decided to equip and train Erwin officers to use naloxone.

“There are two ways of administering naloxone,” Tilson said. “Either by injection or through intranasal spray. We opted for the spray.

“We went through the training. If we arrive on a scene first and misdiagnose someone of an overdose and administer naloxone it won’t hurt them. So, even if it’s a child, a baby; it won’t hurt a pregnant female.”

According to a brochure created by the Tennessee Department of Health and shared by Tilson, those at risk for an opioid overdose include: individuals who have previously overdosed; previous users who have ceased taking the drug and developed a reduced tolerance; mixing opioids with other drugs, such as alcohol; use the drug alone; and those who use an opioid in various strengths or amounts.

“There are accidents. Sometimes you have elderly patients who forgot they took their prescription and will take it again and overdose,” Tilson said. “Sometimes small children will get into medication. Law enforcement officers can often arrive at such a scene before an ambulance. Because we have all been trained and have the naloxone kits in every patrol car, we can administer it when we arrive to keep them breathing while we are waiting on emergency medical personnel.”

Tilson thanks local pharmacist Terry Roller for being an advocate of making naloxone available.

“I want people to know that if you have a family member who has been prescribed an opioid and may be at risk for overdose, for whatever reason, they can get it at Roller Pharmacy,” Tilson said.

If children are in the house, Tilson advises locking medication up and putting it out of their reach. He also advised those with any medication they no longer take to dispose of them in the collection bin located inside Erwin Town Hall.

“We don’t count them,” Tilson said. “We don’t look at who turned in what. We just take the drugs and have them incinerated at Eastman.”

Seized drug funds have been used to pay for the cost of the naloxone kits, Tilson said.

The Tennessee Redline – a toll-free and drug addiction information and referral line – can be reached by calling 1-800-889-9789.

For more information about naloxone, visit the Tennessee Department of Health website at tn.gov/health/topic/information-for-naloxone.