Mont­gomery County sees 138% rise in over­doses

District at­tor­ney en­cour­ages all po­lice to carry Nalox­one

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Kait­lyn Foti kfoti@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com

NOR­RIS­TOWN >> Over­doses are up by an alarm­ing rate across Mont­gomery County, ac­cord­ing to data re­leased by the District At­tor­ney’s of­fice.

Over­doses have in­creased 138 per­cent from last year, ac­cord­ing to the re­leased sta­tis­tics.

Kate De­lano, spokes­woman for the D.A.’s of­fice, said that the in­crease was de­ter­mined by com­par­ing av­er­age over­doses per month in 2015 to the av­er­age per month in the first seven months of 2016.

“When you do the math, this year there are an av­er­age of 37 a month,” De­lano said. “Last year it was 15.6. That’s an av­er­age of over­doses, not deaths — all over­doses from all drugs.”

So far in 2016, there have been 260 over­doses, re­sult­ing in 85 deaths, al­ready surg­ing ahead of the 71 over­dose deaths in 2015. A ma­jor­ity are due to heroin or opi­oids.

“Our county’s over­dose num­bers are be­ing re­leased dur­ing Na­tional Pre­scrip­tion Opi­oid and Heroin Epi­demic Aware­ness Week as ev­i­dence that there is no com­mu­nity that is im­mune to this tragedy. It’s killing far too many peo­ple,” District At­tor­ney Kevin Steele said.

The county has been work­ing to ad­dress the epi­demic on more than one front. Ed­u­ca­tional cam­paigns about the proper dis­posal of pre­scrip­tion drugs and county-spon­sored col­lec­tions aim to re­duce opi­oid ad­dic­tion that of­ten be­gins with pre­scrip­tion pills.

The re­lease from the district at­tor­ney fo­cused on en­cour­ag­ing all county po­lice de­part­ments to carry the over­dose-re­vers­ing drug Nalox­one, sold un­der the brand name Nar­can. Steele said that not only can the drug pro­tect civil­ians, but it can also pro­tect of­fi­cers who come in con­tact with the dan­ger­ous drug fen­tanyl that is on the rise as an ad­di­tive or sub­sti­tute for heroin.

“It is our goal to equip all 49 po­lice de­part­ments with this life-sav­ing drug to help pro­tect the lives of our cit­i­zens,” Steele said. “Given the emer­gence of fen­tanyl, an of­fi­cer or his K-9 part­ner could ac­ci­den­tally in­hale fen­tanyl while se­cur­ing drug ev­i­dence and go into res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress, re­quir­ing im­me­di­ate treat­ment with Nalox­one.”

While 70 per­cent — or 33 out of 49 — of the county’s po­lice de­part­ments are car­ry­ing the drug, Steele wants it to be ubiq­ui­tous.

Some po­lice de­part­ments may find re­dun­dancy in car­ry­ing the drug, since it may be un­likely that they would ar­rive to the scene faster than paramedics car­ry­ing Nalox­one. For the Pottstown Po­lice De­part­ment, that was the rea­son­ing at first, ac­cord­ing to Capt. Robert Thomas. Even­tu­ally, though, he said the need be­came more ob­vi­ous for the of­fi­cers to carry the drug.

“It be­came ob­vi­ous that there was go­ing to be a need for it. Ini­tially we were think­ing along the lines of Good­will (Am­bu­lance) is al­ways there but we re­con­sid­ered,” Thomas said. “Why wouldn’t we want to be ca­pa­ble, in case we get there be­fore Good­will?”

Since the de­part­ment started car­ry­ing Nalox­one in May, the of­fi­cers have used it much more than he ex­pected, he said.

“We’re us­ing a lot more Nalox­one than I thought we would,” Thomas said. “We have been us­ing it weekly. Far and above what I an­tic­i­pated.”

Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sioner Val Arkoos a physi­cian who also serves as in­terim med­i­cal direc­tor of the Mont­gomery County Health De­part­ment, has been closely in­volved with the county’s bat­tle against over­dose.

“As a physi­cian I un­der­stand very, very clearly what a dif­fi­cult prob­lem this is to treat. Ad­dic­tion is ab­so­lutely one of the most dif­fi­cult diseases to treat,” Arkoosh said. “My hope is that we can fo­cus on pre­ven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion in a highly co­or­di­nated way across the county.”

She spear­headed an ef­fort to get Nalox­one into phar­ma­cies and health clin­ics through­out the county. So far, 411 Nalox­one kits have been dis­trib­uted through phar­ma­cies since Oc­to­ber 2015 and 16 from county health clin­ics since June 2016. For more in­for­ma­tion about the nalox­one lo­ca­tions and the county’s ef­forts, visit mont­copa.org/over­dosepre­ven­tion.

Arkoosh out­lined some of the other ac­tions be­ing taken to con­tain the wild­fire of over­doses. In­creas­ing li­a­bil­ity pro­tec­tions so that school nurses, staff mem­bers at com­mu­nity cen­ters and oth­ers can safety ad­min­is­ter Nalox­one would broaden ac­cess to the drug.

She also said that mak­ing ef­forts to re­form opi­oid pre­scrib­ing by physi­cians and den­tists can help pre­vent ad­dic­tion be­fore it starts.

“We need ev­ery pre­scriber in the county work­ing to­gether on this prob­lem, we need the pub­lic, we need par­ents,” she said. “We need all hands on deck to fight this so that we don’t con­tinue to cre­ate ad­dicts. As we get peo­ple treat­ment, we need to in­ter­vene to stop more ad­dicts from be­ing cre­ated.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Penn­syl­va­nia De­part­ment of Drug and Al­co­hol Pro­grams, more than 320 mu­nic­i­pal po­lice de­part­ments in Penn­syl­va­nia were equipped with Nalox­one as of May 2016, with Mont­gomery County rank­ing third in the state in Nalox­one cov­er­age.

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