More police carrying anti-OD drug as epidemic continues

Naloxone kits include the overdose-counteracting drug and a nasal delivery device.

Times file photo

Northern Indiana Transportation District Transit Police have found six people in the past three years suffering from heroin overdoses in South Shore stations and trains.

In each case, emergency medical workers responded quickly and the person survived, Police Chief Robert Byrd said.

But there’s always a chance, depending on how much heroin was used and when it was taken, that an ambulance might arrive too late, he said.

On Wednesday, transit police received training on how to administer the opioid-overdose reversal drug naloxone and began carrying the nasal-spray kits in their squad cars.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a drug that reverses the effects of heroin and opioid-derived prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet and morphine. It cannot help in overdoses involving benzodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs that includes Xanax.

Hospitals for years have used naloxone to treat overdoses. But an amendment to Indiana law in 2014 authorized first responders such as police and firefighters to administer the drug.

Byrd said his officers, who patrol the South Shore commuter rail line that runs through Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, already carry automated external defibrillators in their squads and are trained in CPR.

“Because police are always on the street, many times we are the first on the scene for all kinds of emergencies,” he said. “Law enforcement is becoming more cross-trained in the services they provide in an effort to help save lives.”

The cost of the kits for transit police was covered by the Porter County Community Foundation, which also has paid to equip many other first responders in Porter County with the lifesaving drug since late 2014.

Portage Police Chief Troy Williams was the first in the Region to equip some of his officers with naloxone kits in May 2014.

Police and EMS workers in Porter County had successfully administered the drug at least 11 times as of early May. Updated numbers were not immediately available this week.

Lake County sheriff’s police began carrying naloxone in late March and have administered the drug twice, department spokesman Mark Back said. LaPorte County first responders also carry the drug.

Heroin deaths up this year

An increasing number of Region police departments are equipping their officers with naloxone as the opioid epidemic continues in Northwest Indiana. Coroners in Lake and Porter counties on Thursday said heroin deaths are up so far this year.

Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey said her office recorded 20 heroin deaths from January through May, and the drug is suspected in several other cases in June where toxicology results are pending. She expects to end the year with more heroin-related deaths than in 2015, when her office logged 46.

The number of overdose deaths, including heroin-related cases, has steadily been increasing in Lake County over the past several years.

The county logged 48 overdose deaths in 2012, including 23 linked to heroin; 65 in 2013, including 31 linked to heroin; 68 in 2014, including 32 linked to heroin; and 80 in 2015, including 46 linked to heroin, according to statistics provided by Frey.

In Porter County, Coroner Chuck Harris recorded more than twice the number of heroin-related deaths from January to June 12 than he did during the same period last year. There have been 10 heroin-related deaths so far this year in Porter County, compared with four during the same period last year.

Porter County saw a drop in opioid-related deaths in 2015, in large part because first responders started carrying naloxone, Harris said.

The county logged 33 overdose deaths in 2013, including 27 from opioids and 16 specifically from heroin. In 2014, the county saw 43 overdose deaths, including 36 from opioids and 12 specifically from heroin. Last year, Harris recorded 36 overdose deaths, including 23 from opioids and 12 specifically from heroin.

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Public safety reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.