By John Adam
Law enforcement and emergency officials from around the Tri-Cities are teaming up to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic. During a special press conference yesterday morning, the police and fire departments from Colonial Heights and Petersburg announced that they had teamed up to provide police officers and firefighters naloxone, which is the medication used to revive persons who have overdosed on opioids.
Richmond-based Kaleo Pharmaceuticals donated 800 units of evzio, which is the auto-injector system for naloxone. The partnership is officially known as Project POINT (Police Opioid Intervention Naloxone Treatment).
“These drugs pose a serious risk to public safety, and to our police officers,” said Colonial Heights Fire and EMS Operational Medical Director Dusty Anderson. “Today, we are able to provide our officers with the safety and protection they need if they are ever exposed to these drugs. This project also allows police officers to give aid to citizens when fire and EMS are not readily available.”
Each police officer in Colonial Heights and Petersburg will be issued a special kit with two evzio auto-injectors and a special training injector, which gives automated instructions on how to administer the naloxone to someone who has overdosed. Naloxone works by knocking opioids off receptors in the brain, blocking the effects of the opioid.
The idea for the partnership first came when Anderson emailed Eric Edwards, the Vice President of Innovation for Kaleo Pharmaceuticals, telling him about how law enforcement around the Tri-Cities has been struggling with the significant increase in overdose calls over the past year. In Colonial Heights and Petersburg, overdose calls for 2017 have already surpassed the number the overdose calls in 2016.
“We believe we need to get naloxone into the hands of all individuals who can benefit,” said Edwards.
Kaleo is one of two companies that provides FDA approved naloxone injectors. Through their Kaleo Cares program, the company tries to assist local enforcement by giving them tools to prevent overdose deaths.
During the press conference, Anderson credited several members of the Petersburg and Colonial Heights Police Departments for collaborating on the partnership.
Opioid drugs have gotten more deadly over the past several years, as stronger drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are both infinitely more potent than heroin, have been responsible for many overdoses in Virginia and nationwide. Fentanyl and carfentanil are so potent that they pose a risk to law enforcement officers who handle them at crime scenes. There have been several instances across the country of officers who have accidentally overdosed because they came into contact with fentanyl or carfentanil.
“What we’re learning is that an opioid product as small as a grain of sand could pose a direct hazard to someone providing care,” said Petersburg Fire Chief Dennis Rubin. “It could be disastrous for the responders, so if the police officers or firefighters come into contact with [the opioids] this could save them.”
By giving law enforcement the evzio auto-injectors, officials hope they can decrease the amount of fatal overdoses in the area, as well as protect officers who come into contact with the drugs.
“Rescuers can’t rescue if they’re affected,” said Petersburg Police Chief Kenneth Miller. “We believe that by working together, it’ll make us all successful.”
Project POINT is the latest in a series of steps that localities across the Tri-Cities have taken to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic. In Virginia, 1,420 people died from overdoses in 2016, and public health officials have said the number could be larger by the time 2017 ends. Colonial Heights and Dinwiddie have both hosted special forums, educating residents about the dangers of opioids, and the resources that are being made available to help people affected.
•John Adam may be reached at email@example.com or 804-722-5172.