October 19, 2021

Building an army against overdose

Cortland County looks to arm with naloxone

Photos by Todd R. McAdam/contributing photographer

Courtney McCallen, a public health educator, explains how to administer a dose of naloxone nasal spray to someone who is overdosing on opioids during a training session Tuesday.

Cortland Police Officer Ben Locke raced up the stairs of a house with naloxone spray in hand as the overdose victim’s girlfriend yelled for him to move faster.

He’s seen that far too often in his 14 years on the job.

He ran over to a man sitting on a couch and began doing sternum rubs. No response. He squirted one dose of naloxone up the man’s nose and next he knew, the man was on his feet staring at him dazed and confused.

“I was barely even pulling that out of his nose and he was standing up and staring at me,” Locke said.

Locke has administered naloxone eight to 10 times in his 14 years as a cop, but said he can’t count how many times he’s been at a scene where it was used by another officer or medical personnel.

“The ones that pass — that don’t make it — stick with you longer,” Locke said. “The last thing that we want is to have somebody pass away due to an overdose knowing we have the tools that could potentially save a life.”

How to help or get help

Where to get a naloxone kit
• Cortland County Office Building, 60 Central Ave., Cortland, training and kits are available from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
• CVS Pharmacy, 13 Port Watson St., Cortland
• Price Chopper pharmacy, 854 Route 13, Cortlandville
• Walgreens Pharmacy, at the Rite Aid at 170 Port Watson St., Cortland
• Rite Aid Pharmacy, 1067 Route 222, Cortlandville
• Kinney Drugs pharmacies, 14 Clinton Ave. Cortland or 3666 Route 281, Cortlandville
• Walgreens Pharmacy, 3948 Route 281, Cortlandville
• Walmart Pharmacy, 819 Bennie Road, Cortlandville

The Good Samaritan Law
Cortland Police Officer Ben Locke said people are often afraid to call 911 when a companion overdoses because they think they could get in trouble.

New York’s Good Samaritan law protects people from prosecution from most drug offenses if they call 911 to get emergency aid for someone in an overdose, including themselves.

The law protects the callers from prosecution even if:
• They have up to 8 ounces of drugs, sufficient for an A-2 felony.
• They have alcohol where underage drinking is involved.
• They have any amount of marijuana.
• They have drug paraphernalia.
• They shared drugs.

It doesn’t protect people accused of an A-1 felony, or with a prior conviction for an A-1, A-2 or B felony drug sales, but it can be cited as a mitigating factor to reduce a sentence, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Outpatient addiction treatment facilities in the greater Cortland area

• Beacon Center: 20 Crawford St., Cortland
• Family and Children Counseling Services of Cortland County: 165 Main St., Cortland
• Syracuse Recovery Services of Cortland: 6 Euclid Ave., Cortland
• Open Access Treatment and Referral Facility: 2353 N. Triphammer Road, Lansing

Inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment facilities
• Tully Hill Chemical Dependency Treatment Center: 5821 Route 8, Tully

The Cortland County Health Department has been pushing for years naloxone training on police, first responders and anyone who might come in contact with someone who might overdose on opioids.

“We have a fairly comprehensive approach from all angles for this,” Health Director Catherine Feuerherm said.

At a recent Cortland city police awards ceremony, every officer honored for saving a life, every one of them, received it for the same action. Not for first aid as a nasty car crash, not for pulling people from a river or out of a burning vehicle.

They won, all 13 of them, for administering naloxone.

Courtney McCallen, a public health educator, shows what a package of naloxone spray looks like during a training session on how to administer the nasal spray.

Opioid deaths dropping

More people are seeking addiction treatment; overdose-reversing naloxone is administered more often. But fewer people are dying, data show.

State data as of November shows a decrease in all opioid deaths in the county: 10 in the first six months of 2017 — and 13 all year — compared with three between January and June of 2018.

The number of time naloxone was administered by police or emergency responders also seems to have dropped, to 33 times in the first nine months of 2018 from 44 in the same period in 2017.

Feuerherm said the state’s website shows a higher usage by Emergency Medical Service personal than by law enforcement. However, Feuerherm said she believes many police don’t file the paperwork when they use it.

Locke said he feels like the police have been responding to fewer overdoses over the past year. He said that could be because many people already have kits. However, one kit might not be enough.

More naloxone kits
Feuerherm said more naloxone kits have been distributed, especially among non-emergency responders — to 416 in 2018 from 284 in 2016.

“It’s creeping up a little bit each year,” she said. “Obviously we believe Narcan is a good thing. Every time it is used it gives people a second chance.”

Since 2015, The county Health Department has trained people to use naloxone every Tuesday and Thursday since 2015.

Courtney McCallen, a public health educator who teaches people to administer naloxone, said the good thing about administering naloxone without knowing what the person took is that it won’t hurt them.

Naloxone isn’t an automatic lifesaver, she said, but it buys 30 to 90 minutes to get help. If enough drugs remain in the system, the patient could slip back into an overdose.

The county has trained first responders and anyone who walks into the clinics. Now it’s expanding to the Cortland County Jail. Inmates get training and a kit when they leave, Feuerherm said.

“I try to be as aggressive as I can with it,” Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said. The kits are offered to every inmate, but not forced on them. Helms said he got the idea to work with Feuerherm to get the kits after noting a five-county pilot program to get naloxone to inmates. “It’s very easy to get, now,” he said.

Loved ones of someone brought to Guthrie Cortland Medical Center for an overdose also leave with a kit.

“If they want it from us, we’re going to give it to them because it could save a life,” said Dr. Russ Firman, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

More than 2,000 pharmacies across the state — including all eight in Cortland County — will provide someone a naloxone kit without a prescription for free or a low cost, according to the state Department of Health.

Feuerherm said the county Health Department is also backing the idea of handing out a naloxone kit with every opioid prescription.

“That should be one of the best practices in the medical field, in general,” Feuerherm said.

Changing care
Medical providers have been adjusting how they deal with patients to reduce the risk of addiction. Adult patients at most medical facilities receive mental health and substance abuse screening so doctors can determine who may be at risk for using opioids, Feuerherm said.

At Guthrie Cortland Medical Center, the number of opioid prescriptions has also decreased 50 percent from 2016 to 2018, Firman said.

“We had a general consensus that it was no longer appropriate to send people home with a prescription for things like back pain or a headache,” he said. “There are other alternatives to opioids you can use.”

When patients complain about pain, the hospital’s doctors can call the patient’s physician to consult rather than simply write a new prescription.

Feuerherm said new treatment facilities can help. Open Access Treatment and Referral Facility in Lansing is one of the most recent.

Changing attitudes
There’s a role for everyone, Locke said. Police are still working to help people understand the Good Samaritan Law protects people in most cases who call the police during an overdose. They won’t be prosecuted.

Police on an overdose scene also need to know what the person took.

But what’s really changing, Feuerherm said, is that people understand more about addiction.

“The conversations are happening and it’s viewed as a disease — a treatable disease now,” Feuerherm said. “It’s not just a behavior or preferred lifestyle. It’s a disease that needs treatments.”