Ithaca, N.Y. — The Ithaca Police Department is arming all of its officers with a powerful tool to reverse heroin and other opiate overdoses.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Sgt. Jacob Young in a media briefing on Monday.

Young said he and a few other officers had been to an instructor training program about the tool, called Narcan.

“We looked at each other and we said, ‘We have to roll this out,’” Young recalled. “It’s just so simple, and so easy, and the risk of something bad happening is as close to zero as we can get.”

The training for Narcan — which IPD officers will inject through the nose — takes about 45 minutes. The kits that officers can use to deploy Narcan are paid for by the Attorney General’s office. Every officer in the IPD will be trained to administer Narcan.

“From the chief down to the newest patrol officer,” Young said.

After starting in late September, about 35 officers in IPD have been trained to use Narcan. The vast majority will be trained by the end of the week, according to Sgt. Young.

“It’s going to better prepare us to assist, and it’s certainly going to improve community interactions,” Sgt. Young said. “It’s always a positive thing when we can save somebody’s life.”

Sgt. Young. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

Narcan’s benefits

At the training, Sgt. Young stressed that Narcan isn’t just for reversing heroin overdoses and can apply to a range of opiate overdoses, including for those on drugs like oxycotin and methadone.

And it could be used for a wide array of populations.

“We’ve certainly seen it on campuses; college students end up getting addicted to opiates, and for us as police we’re usually the first responders for heavy users who experience an overdose,” Sgt. Young said.

Across the state, Young said, “Deaths have skyrocketed over the last few years.”

But he added that, in Ithaca, heroin overdose calls may actually be on somewhat of a decline recently — thanks in part to the distribution of Narcan to civilians. (Narcan is the brand name of an opiate reverser, around since the 1960s, called Nalaxone.)

“We’re actually seeing a little bit less because the Nalaxone kits are being issued to the users and their friends and families,” Young said. “A lot are being reversed and we’re not being made aware of them.”

The Ithaca Fire Department is already equipped with Narcan.

Time of the essence

Officers will not be required to use Narcan, according to Officer Richard Niemi.

“Ideally, I’d like for you guys to use it … but you’re not going to get in trouble” for not doing so, Niemi said at the training, “…because there are many things you have to do on the scene.”

Young stressed that one of the best things about Narcan is that it is not dangerous if applied to someone who is not experiencing a heroin overdose.

“All they’re going to end up with is a wet nose,” if an officer gives Narcan to someone experiencing a meth overdose, as opposed to a heroin overdose, according to Young.

Sgt. Young said Narcan works by essentially displacing the opiates from brain receptors. It’s like Narcan takes the “parking space” inhabited by the drug, Young said, drawing on a metaphor from the presentation.

There are still dangers police should be aware of when treating patients experiencing overdoses, however.

“Use caution when administrating naloxone to narcotic dependent patients!,” read a slideshow from the Department of Criminal Justice Services presentation. “Rapid opiate withdrawal my cause nausea and vomiting and may cause combativeness.”

And for the officers, despite the non-toxic effects of Narcan, time is still of the essence.

“There’s time to respond, but there’s no time to waste,” Young said.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.