Clallam County deputies begin carrying overdose antidote

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office is the most recent law enforcement agency on the North Olympic Peninsula to carry naloxone — a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

The drug, which is often called by its brand name Narcan, can rapidly reverse overdoses of prescription pain killers or heroin. Deputies began carrying it this year, thanks to a partnership with the Clallam County Health Department.

“The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office is proud to join other first responders in the state who have been trained and equipped with naloxone to help anyone in distress due to an opioid overdose,” Sheriff Bill Benedict said in a press release.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office joins the Port Angeles Police Department, Forks Police Department and the Makah, Lower Elwha and Quileute tribal police, who already carry the drug and have documented numerous lives saved since starting their programs.

“One of the most important things about naloxone is how quickly it’s given,” said Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

“The longer a person is unconscious due to an overdose, the more brain function they lose, and the more likely they are to die,” she said.

The latest stats available from the county show that in 2016 and 2017 reports of opioid overdoses had steadily decreased.

The Clallam County Opioid Surveillance Dashboard report has not been updated since March, but the county had been reporting opioid overdoses each quarter.

Clallam County was the first county in the state to have mandatory reporting of opioid overdoses and was the first county in the state to make opioid overdose deaths a reportable condition, beginning in 2016.

During the first quarter of 2016 there were 20 overdoses reported while during the last quarter of 2017 there were only six overdoses reported.

Officials have said the decrease in reported overdoses might be because of the increasing amount of naloxone in the community.

Clallam County has also seen a decrease in the amount of opioid prescriptions. Clallam County medical providers were prescribing opioid-based pills at three times the state average two years ago while now area providers are now prescribing opioids at less than twice the state average.

Whether deputies should carry naloxone was an issue during Benedict’s campaign for re-election. In October he said it didn’t make sense financially because firefighters and EMTs who carry naloxone are often the first to respond.

Staff Sgt. Sean Madison with Sequim Police Department said department leaders have explored equipping local police officers with Narcan, but echoed what Benedict had said in October.

Madison said it is rare for Sequim officers to arrive to the scene of an opioid overdose before crews from Clallam County Fire District 3, and that firefighter/EMTs arrive on scene quickly enough to take over in an overdose situation.

“We have a terrific response from the fire department that they’re always within a minute or two behind us,” Madison said, “whereas the sheriff’s office may have 20 to 30 minutes [in its coverage area] before a medical team arrives.”

Madison said police leaders feel if they do arrive before medical officials then they can “keep someone breathing for [one to two minutes] using the equipment and training that we already have.”

In the rural areas like the West End, Sheriff’s Office deputies are often some of the first responders to emergency incidents of all kinds, including overdoses.

“We want to make sure that everyone in our county has access to this life-saving medicine when they need it, and equipping all our first responders with these tools is an essential first step in that effort,” Unthank said.

For more information about preventing overdoses, ask a health care provider or call the Clallam County Health Department at 360-417-2303.

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Peninsula Daily News Reporter Jesse Major contributed to this report.

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