Using Narcan to Save Lives: Lessons from the Quincy Police Department

During an 18th month period ending in 2009, the small city of Quincy, Massachusetts suffered 47 citizen deaths from accidental drug overdose. The victims spanned all ages, from young teens experimenting with drugs, to elderly folks who unintentionally mixed up prescription medications and habitual substance abusers. The incidence of an eighteen-year-old who overdosed on heroin marked the last straw and a group of parents, along with the Lt Detective Patrick Glynn of the Quincy Police Department, decided to do something about it. The group partnered with the Bay State Community Services to gain support from the mayor and the Chief of Police, and were able to convince the Massachusetts Public Health Department that overdose deaths were a major issue that needed attention. By early 2011, Quincy had become a case study in a new pilot program to train police officers on how to resuscitate overdose victims using nasal Narcan, an opiate reversal drug. Eighteen months later, overdose deaths had dropped to 16 for that period and Quincy police officers had saved 90 lives with Narcan.

In June 2012 Lt Detective Pat Glynn spoke at the Summit on Law Enforcement Safety and Drug Policy in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the success of the Narcan program in Quincy and some of the obstacles they had to overcome to make it work.

“There was some initial resistance to the Narcan program – I like to call them speedbumps,” explains Lt Det. Glynn, Commander of the Narcotics Unit and Special Investigations Unit. “Some people thought that we would be injecting people with Narcan through a syringe and that we should leave that to the paramedics, but it was just a matter of explaining that the Narcan we use is a nasal spray…Narcan is just one more tool that the officers have to save lives.

“We had an incident where we had an officer [opposed to the Narcan program]. It was winter and he got dispatched to a call about a person lying in a snow bank. This individual and his friends had been doing heroin, he overdosed and the friends stopped the car and threw him into a snow bank. The officer administered Narcan, revived him and got him to a hospital…within 45 minutes of arriving back at the police station he was dispatched again to save another individual with Narcan. I saw him later and asked him about his thoughts. He said ‘When I saw that kid in the snow bank I thought that could be my kid. If I didn’t have [Narcan] to help him, I don’t know how I could live with myself.’ That officer is on board now with the Narcan program.”

Lt Det Glynn makes a point to acknowledge every officer each time they save a life with Narcan by emailing that officer to congratulate them and thank them on a job well done. Community members have also been sending letters to the police department thanking the officers for saving their loved ones and for giving them a second chance to get into treatment. The satisfaction of being able to save lives as well as acknowledgement and thanks both internally and from the community, have created an atmosphere of support for the Narcan program, even among police officers who were initially opposed.

Lt Det Glynn tells another anecdote of someone driving up to the police station with someone in a car who had overdosed. “The police were able to come out and administer Narcan,” explains Glynn. “This tells me that the public is changing their perception of law enforcement…. Public awareness is key to any successful program. I believe that the citizen who drove to the police station for Narcan shows that we have accomplished that.”

The Quincy Narcan program is currently funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, but when the funding for the pilot program stops, there is already a commitment from Mayor Tom Koch to continue funding the program. “It’s a small cost,” says Lt Det Glynn. “Compare $20 for Narcan with the value of saving a life. No elected official is saying those lives aren’t worth the cost. As of today [July 6th 2012] 95 individuals have been reversed. Without the support of the Mayor, Chief Paul Keenan, and the men and women of the department, most [of the overdose victims] would likely not be alive today.”

The officers, already trained as first responders, received a short training on how to administer nasal Narcan, so training costs were minimal. Each officer carries two doses on Narcan in each cruiser.

“We had 16 deaths in the past 18 months from overdose,” says Lt Det Glynn. “We’d like to bring that number down to zero. If we could have fewer and fewer families affected, that would be great. A lot of people only look at the law enforcement side of public safety, but we are breaking down those walls [with the Narcan program]. We realize that arrest alone will not solve the problem of addiction. It takes a multi-prong approach, which I think Quincy Police department has addressed: Prevention, Education, Treatment, Enforcement, and Reducing Repeat overdoses.

“In closing, I would like to stress that I along with all the officers are trying to provide people with options, especially the option to choose a life free of substance dependency. Our hope/goal is that many of the [people who are revived from an overdose] go into treatment, thus reducing the cycle of overdoses in our communities.”