Every sworn officer in the Woodburn Police Department will soon be carrying naloxone, an anti-opiate serum that temporarily counteracts the effects of opiate drugs and can reduce overdose deaths, the city announced last week.
All Woodburn police officers will be trained on how to nasally administer the drug, known commercially as Narcan, at in-service trainings in March and April. When administered to someone who is overdosing on opiates — such as heroin, morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl — naloxone binds with opiate receptors in the brain, disrupting their connections with the opiate drug and stopping the drug's effects.
"With the increase of drugs on our streets, specifically heroin and other opiates like fentanyl, we have encountered people in an overdose state," Woodburn police Chief Jim Ferraris said. "One tool we have used is CPR. Naloxone is another tool we can use to preserve that person's life."
Ferraris said that local emergency medical services units have carried naloxone in an injectable form for years. But sometimes police officers arrive at calls for medical emergencies before other emergency responders, or encounter people in an overdose state in situations when other emergency responders aren't around.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon has one of the highest rates of prescription opioid misuse in the nation. And, according to a report by the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, in 2015 nearly a quarter of law enforcement officers surveyed in Oregon and Idaho indicated heroin was the principal threat in their area due to a rise in availability and overdoses.
Woodburn isn't immune from the trend: Ferraris said that opiates and methamphetamine are the most prominent drugs in the Woodburn area.
Ferraris said the primary benefit of the officers carrying naloxone is for public safety. But naloxone, Ferraris said, could also improve officer safety. That's because fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is becoming increasingly popular, and Ferraris said it can be absorbed through the skin.
"Police officers and evidence technicians could encounter fentanyl, seize it, count the pills and book them into evidence, and through handling the drug go into an overdose state," Ferraris said. "Having somebody closeby with naloxone could save their life."
Woodburn will be the seventh known agency in Oregon to carry naloxone. Ferraris introduced a similar program to the Salem Police Department in 2015 when he was deputy chief of that department.
The cost of the anti-opiate serum will be reimbursed by the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. The program is funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a component of the executive branch of the federal government.