When area law enforcement agencies were presented with the opportunity to receive kits for officers to use to counteract drug overdoses, Rittman Police Chief Mike Burg was not sure he wanted them.

The naloxone, or Narcan, kits were made available through funding from the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Wayne & Holmes Counties after a request from Don Hall, executive director of the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency. Naloxone is a synthetic prescription drug used to reverse the effects of opioid drug overdoses. It received Food & Drug Administration approval in 1971.

“I didn’t think officers should do it,” Burg said. His thinking was the emergency medical services personnel should be the ones administering it. “EMS is usually there (on a scene) just as quickly as we are.”

However, with heroin continuing to be a problem, Burg decided he needed to be proactive, and he reversed course on Narcan. He mandated all of his officers be trained in using the kits because he didn’t want them arriving on scene and having to read the directions.

Already, officers have used Narcan four times.

“Last week, we responded to an unresponsive person, and there was a spoon and a syringe lying next to him,” Burg said.

The officer administered a dose of naloxone via a nasal sprayer.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for an expansion of using naloxone in order to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths involving opioids, like heroin, especially in rural areas. In 2013, more than 16,000 deaths in the United States involved prescription opioids, and more than 8,000 others were related to heroin.

In analyzing the data, CDC discovered, “In general, the rate of opioid overdose death was 45 percent higher in rural areas compared with urban areas. The use of naloxone by rural EMS staff, however, was only 22.5 percent higher when compared with urban EMS naloxone use.”

EMS Chief Andy Baillis said Narcan is something his department has been using. In 2014, paramedics used Narcan on 30 known or suspected overdose cases.

“It’s a good tool. It saves lives,” Baillis said. “The next big step is trying to get behaviors changed. Until the behaviors are changed, we’ll keep seeing the same people over and over again.”

Judy Wortham Wood, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board, has said she is glad law enforcement brought this issue to the board. The next step is working on getting Vivitrol into the jails in the two counties. It blocks the effects of narcotics and alcohol and helps take away the urge for those substances.

By BOBBY WARREN  @the-daily-record.com