The numbers are compelling. Police officers in Salem, Massachusetts have used Narcan more than 60 times in 2015 to save victims of opiate overdoses. Narcan (Nalaxone) reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and allows the victim to be transported to a hospital for further care.
Without this drug, it is highly likely that the victim will die. The drug is now available as a nasal spray, avoiding the use of a needle which may add additional risks. All of Salem’s police officers were equipped with and trained in the administration of Narcan about a year ago.
Last week, it was announced that the neighboring police department for the town of Ipswich is following suit. Ipswich Police Chief Paul Nikas announced that all Ipswich police cruisers are now equipped with Narcan kits. Ipswich now joins the North Shore towns of Topsfield, Swampscott, Boxford, Wenham and Salem in use of the life-saving drug.
Two factors are already compromising the use of Narcan in the community. The first is the cost of the drug. As the need for the drug increased in the Commonwealth’s efforts to fight what has been termed an epidemic, the manufacturers increased its cost. What was originally a $15-17 dose now costs $30-35. Governor Baker and other government officials are negotiating with the drug manufacturers to bring the costs back down. At present, police departments are utilizing funds available from federal drug forfeiture money and partnering with local area hospitals of keep the costs as low as possible. Ipswich has arranged to purchase its Narcan supply from Beverly Hospital.
The second factor impacting the effects of Narcan is the use of another drug to augment the local supply of Heroin. Fentanyl is a very powerful tranquilizer usually only used in hospitals for surgery. Chemists working in the street drug trade have developed the means to manufacture Fentanyl on their own. As this drugs looks almost identical to Heroin, it is common now to add the much cheaper Fentanyl to Heroin to create doses with a more powerful high and with a higher profit margin for the dealer. Unfortunately, this sometimes means the user takes a much higher dosage of powerful tranquilizers than planned, and overdoses. State Police Superintendent Col. Richard McKeon said last week the state drug lab detected five cases of fentanyl-laced drugs in 2013, 170 cases in 2014 and 473 cases of drugs with fentanyl so far this year, according to the State House News Service. Again, more compelling numbers.