Training law enforcement to reverse opioid overdoses
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates around 68 percent of last year’s more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. In other words, an average of 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. The Texas A&M Health Science Center Opioid Task Force is dedicated to decreasing these alarming mortality rates, partly through expanding access to the opioid overdose reversal agent known as naloxone, or Narcan.
The Opioid Task Force, in collaboration with the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, facilitated naloxone training sessions for law enforcement and emergency service departments from seven counties across the Brazos Valley this week.
“Law enforcement will most likely be the first responder on the scene, especially in a rural setting, so it is important they feel empowered and comfortable using naloxone,” said Joy Alonzo, M. Engineering, PharmD, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Pharmacy, who is leading the naloxone training effort.
In December 2018, the Task Force trained over 200 law enforcement and emergency responders in reversing opioid overdoses using naloxone. Additionally, the Task Force held a training at Texas A&M University at Galveston for the University’s Police Department last June.
During the training, participants learn how to identify a potential opioid overdose and employ the Opioid Overdose Action Plan, which spells out the exactly what to do to render assistance during an opioid overdose and use naloxone to reverse the opioid overdose. The trainings also review the basics of opioid pharmacology, factors influencing the opioid crisis, officer safety during an opioid overdose situation and Texas specific legislation pertaining to naloxone. This information helps to debunk any common myths about opioids, opioid overdose and the use of naloxone.
An integral part of the workshop is the hands-on opioid overdose simulation exercise. The exercise requires participants along with trainers to simulate an opioid overdose situation and implement the Opioid Overdose Action Plan, which includes activating 911, naloxone administration, rescue breathing, reassessment and monitoring.
The naloxone trainings are only one intervention that the Opioid Task Force is employing to decrease opioid-related mortality and expand access to substance use treatments. They are also evaluating the contributing factors to opioid use disorder for further interventions.
“It will take a multi-faceted and multi-disciplined approach to reverse the number of mortalities occurring in the opioid epidemic,” said Joy Alonzo. “We are training all Health Science Center students on every campus how to recognize an opioid overdose and use naloxone as well as educating them about opioid use disorder and the contributing factors.”
She said their goal is to eventually train Texas A&M undergraduates and resident assistants in the dorms on Texas A&M campuses as well as place naloxone kits in high traffic areas on all campuses.
The Texas A&M University Health Science Center is the first health science center in the nation to commit to training all health sciences students on factors contributing to opioid misuse, recognizing an opioid overdose and opioid overdose reversal. This huge enterprise will include training Health Science Center students in every discipline on every campus. “We are all responsible for finding a better way forward,” Alonzo said. “This is why we want our students to understand the best practices regarding medical treatment with opioids, how to recognize opioid misuse and intervene appropriately when necessary.”
The Task Force is working every day to decrease opioid overdose mortality rates and spread awareness about naloxone as an opioid overdose reversal agent. Everyone plays a role in stopping the opioid epidemic, especially law enforcement. Frequently, they find themselves first on the scene of an overdose, and need to respond immediately to avoid another opioid overdose related death. “If we can work together, then we can not only reduce the number of deaths related opioids but we can also start to change the way people view opioid use disorder and those affected by it, thus increasing successful treatment outcomes.”