Police consider carrying overdose antidote

Rhode Island has recorded 45 overdose deaths since Jan. 1. Police departments around the state are looking into having their officers carry an antidote.

Naloxone, sometimes known by the brand name Narcan, is the drug credited with bringing heroin or other opiate overdose patients back to life.

"It has an immediate reversal effect of the opiate," said Pat McMahon.

McMahon is the head of emergency services in Charlestown and a lieutenant on the town's police force.

"A lot of times when we see our victims, their respiratory rate is very shallow, low or not at all. The medication will virtually, as long as we get it in time, will virtually reverse that," McMahon said.

Naloxone is commonly carried on ambulances. It can be injected or given as a nasal spray.

McMahon said Charlestown will put the drug in the hands of some police officers as soon as a shipment comes in.

Half of the patrol officers on the small force are also EMTs trained in using naloxone. They are the officers who will be carrying the antidote first.

"The police officer can get on a scene anywhere from three to five minutes prior to an ambulance arriving on scene. This way the police officers will have this," McMahon said.

Charlestown appears to be the first department in Southern New England to take this step. But plenty of others are going in that direction.

The head of the Rhode Island State Police said he believes his agency has the legal authority to have its troopers carry naloxone. He's working with health officials to find the best way to buy the drug in bulk.

The mayor of Fall River will be seeking permission from Massachusetts health officials to give his city's officers the antidote. Woonsocket police are looking for the OK from its insurer.

The Providence police chief has said he's interested, too.