Drug Diversion and Abuse: Nasal Naloxone and Law Enforcement

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Thursday, September 13, 2012
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Prevention methods, although difficult to measure, have a positive impact on curbing substance abuse among the youth of this country.

The issues and concerns about the deaths surrounding prescription drug abuse need no introduction. In Ohio and many other states, the unintentional overdose deaths due to pharmaceuticals accounts for more than fatal traffic accidents and more than the deaths associated with cocaine and heroin combined. When the number 1 substance of abuse for 12- to 17-year-olds is also prescription drugs, the potential for this age group to overdose and die due to abuse is real.

Many of us do our best to combat this problem, with great television and radio ads, printed prevention material, educational sessions, websites, and personal talks with our own kids and grandkids. Everything has been tried from the soft approach to providing grim statistics and videos of those involved in substance abuse. The DARE program has been in business for decades now, targeting our younger children inside the schools with visits from police officers who are dedicated to trying to prevent drug abuse.

Skeptics claim that millions of dollars are spent and none of this really works. DARE has taken huge criticism that it doesn’t work, although those same skeptics offer no replacement program or a willingness to fix whatever they think are the faults. They will tell you that the shock value of some of the television ads just doesn’t scare anyone anymore into refraining from abusing drugs.

One thing I have learned in almost 45 years in law enforcement is that prevention methods are extremely difficult to measure. If certain crimes go down, then prevention has been a success, but if they stay the same or go up, we have failure. I think the DARE program has fallen victim to the latter. Should we scrap the DARE program? Absolutely not. DARE and other programs in most cases have had a positive impact on an unknown number of our youth. Substance abuse by our youth has risen, but how much more would it have risen without these programs? No one really knows.

With the understanding that substance abuse involving prescription drugs is rampant and knowing that we are not going to prevent anywhere close to all of the unintentional overdose deaths, what else can be done to save the lives of those who have obviously ignored the prevention programs?

A growing endorsement of the use of nasal naloxone by law enforcement officers in the field is being promoted. Law enforcement is many times the first emergency agency on the scene of an overdose, and often they are the ones who have summoned medical aid to the scene. In the past, law enforcement has been forced to be able to do little if anything while the minutes tick away, waiting for a life squad that we hope will arrive in time, administer naloxone, and save a life.

Naloxone is not a new substance for health professionals—it has been used for many years. However, the sanctioning of law enforcement officers to utilize this drug when needed is truly an interesting concept, one that I think it is time to fully explore.

That is why the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators has issued its position strongly supporting the training and administration of nasal naloxone by police officers to those suspected of being in an opioid-induced overdose. Some police departments have already constructed policies and procedures for the use of nasal naloxone, and I feel that many more will follow.

In consulting with medical experts, I have learned that there may be some small possibility of negative consequences if a person with certain conditions receives nasal naloxone. That’s why training is essential for these officers. The thought is that the opportunities for saving lives far outweigh potential downsides. Also, the predicted consequence for those being revived by naloxone is many times overwhelming irritation, something the officers will need to be well aware of and learn how to best deal with in the field.

My thought is, let’s get this started! Institute it by providing special training, equipping all police officers, and encouraging its use in the right circumstances. The life that is saved may just be one of your loved ones


Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the website www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.



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