The Gainesville Police Department is now taking an extra step to combat heroin and prescription drug overdoses by teaming with the Medical Association of Georgia Foundation to acquire 82 naloxone kits, which reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.
City Council signed off on the deal Tuesday.
Naloxone has proven extremely effective in preventing overdose deaths from heroin and painkillers. Studies have shown naloxone has a success rate as high as 98 percent.
Jeremy Sharp, a student at the University of North Georgia who founded the Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, said hundreds of lives across Georgia have been saved by naloxone.
And his group has recorded at least 37 instances of police officers in the state administering naloxone to save a life.
“Having police equipped and trained with the anti-opiate naloxone is vital to curbing the contemporary endemic trend of fatal drug overdoses,” Sharp said. “Police are often the first responders to a scene once 911 has been called. Administering naloxone in a timely manner can mean the difference between life and death. So it makes sense to have them equipped.”
Heroin’s growing toll has been seen right here in Hall County. Emergency 911 Director Gail Lane said 387 overdose-related calls for help were made in 2014.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office has also trained its patrol officers, school resource officers and first responders to administer naloxone through the nose or via injection.
A deputy was first on the scene of a prescription drug overdose in August and administered a single dose of the naloxone. The patient is expected to make a full recovery.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls prescription drug abuse an epidemic, with overdose deaths from opiate painkillers more common than heroin and cocaine combined.
And the CDC reports that heroin abuse or dependence has climbed 90 percent over the last decade or more, and deaths from overdoses quadrupled during that period, resulting in 8,257 deaths in 2013.
These numbers have spurred the introduction of a bill in the state legislature that, if approved, would require education and addiction counseling for all patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain.
“I understand what they’re trying to do, but it looks like something that could be a potential disaster and drive patients to underground drug markets,” said Jeremy Galloway, a Dahlonega resident and former heroin addict. “On the other hand, this might provide the opportunity to require doctors to prescribe naloxone along with opiates and provide education before sending patients home with opiates.”
Galloway works in what is known as the “harm reduction” community, advocating for less punitive measures to combat drug addiction, with a focus on treatment and recovery over incarceration.
He has helped train and equip methadone clinics and drug rehabilitation programs across North Georgia with naloxone, including the Lanier Treatment Center in Gainesville.
“My end goal is to get a naloxone kit into the hands of every methadone patient in the state,” Galloway said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources for that at the moment. But the clinics have been extremely receptive.”