Santa Cruz County works to prevent opioid overdoses by making Narcan more accessible
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Since 2017, Arizona has seen close to 66,000 opioid overdoses, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. With more people isolated because of the pandemic, those numbers are on the rise.
Now, departments in Santa Cruz County are working to curb overdoses and deaths through a brand new program.
A few doses of the lifesaving drug, Narcan, are neatly packed away in a baggie ready for anyone to pick up at the Nogales Fire Department for free. People can either pick up a couple of doses at local fire stations or the department will make a special delivery.
“We’ll actually bring it by their house,” Nogales Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Polcari said.
The program is part of a new, proactive initiative between ADHS and Sonoran Prevention Works to get Narcan as well as resources and information on addiction in the hands of those who need it before they need it.
“If you have the Narcan in the hands of the person who’s actually with them, they can save a life,” said Dr. Melody Glenn, an addiction specialist at Banner Univerity Medical Center at the University of Arizona.
She said this approach to overdose prevention can save lives since some people may be hesitant to call 911 for help.
That’s an issue the fire department sees firsthand, even with the new program. Officials said some people have called about getting Narcan, but when they find out how close it is to the police department, they never show up and don’t leave contact information behind.
Though the program just started two weeks ago, no one has taken advantage of the resource yet.
“I think people are really kind of scared to come to us just because of where we are,” Polcari said.
The fire department said its goal is to save lives, and people can get the Narcan anonymously. Plus, they won’t tell the police.
Last year, the department started leaving behind Narcan where they’ve treated people for addiction or drug use.
Officials estimate they’ve since left around 100 kits of the drug to patients or family members during those calls.
“I’ve seen personally less calls on repeat patients on someone who suffers from opioid addiction,” said Nogales Fire Department Capt. Angel Taddei.
Glenn said the Nogales Fire Department is one of the first to give out Narcan instead of just having it available. Now, and the Banner UMC emergency department is following suit, handing out Narcan to anyone who needs it.
It’s not just the fire department and Banner taking these proactive measures to curb opioid deaths and overdoses, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department is starting a pilot program that is doing much of the same.
“Down here, our rates are about three times higher than a typical year,” said Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway.
Opioid addiction is a national problem, but one that’s grown during COVID-19. Last year along, Santa Cruz County saw a big spike in opioid overdoses. Deputies in the county have carried Narcan on them since 2017, supplied by the state.
“This is just a band-aid on an artery,” said Detective Joseph Bunting, who trains other deputies and staff on how to use Narcan.
The department hopes to take a more proactive and humanitarian approach to addiction as well, soon launching a pilot program that aims to help people who come through their detention center with opioid addiction. Their plan is to train incarcerated people on how to use Narcan as their release date approaches—then, give them two doses of Narcan nasal spray, as well as a guide to resources available around the community. They said it is a way to get ahead of deaths caused by opioids which have taken about 9,000 lives since 2017, according to ADHS.
“Hopefully this will help them avoid having an overdose and having someone losing a loved one, it’s more of a humanitarian outreach,” said Lt. Raoul Rodriguez, jail commander for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department.
Before the pilot kicks off in about six weeks, the department wants to increase its stock of Narcan. They said the pilot and current Naloxone supply does not cost the local taxpayers anything, since community partners and the state supply the drug.
To receive a Naloxone kit or for more information, go to Nogales Fire Station 1, 777 N. Grand Ave., Nogales, Arizona, 85621, or call 520-287-6548.
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