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It hasn’t quite been a year since David’s Law was passed in Pennsylvania, allowing first responders to carry and administer Naxolone, or Narcan, which can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose.
The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Dominic Pileggi, passed in September 2014 and Chester County has already been feeling the effects of it.
In a report released by the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association in May, 2,488 deaths in Pennsylvania during 2014 were caused from drug poisoning — that’s seven people a day in the state.
Eighty-two of those deaths were from Chester County.
“We recognize that opioid overdoses have soared,” said Scott Bohn, West Chester’s Chief of Police. “Not just here in the Commonwealth, but nationwide.”
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Last year saw a 20 percent average increase since 2013 in drug-related deaths in the counties.
Twenty-five percent of the drug overdoses in the state came from opioid medications in 2014 and 24 percent came from non-legal drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
In Chester County, that number increased to 31 percent for opioids and 38 percent for non-legal drugs.
These stunning numbers is a large reason why David’s Law came into existence.
Now, first responders are trying to combat the drug epidemic by saving a life with Narcan instead of them adding to the rising death toll.
“It’s going pretty well,” Bohn said. “Equipping police and first responders with Narcan instead of having to wait for the EMS or ALS (advanced life support) saves lives. Our police officers are typically the first to arrive on the scene and experts have argued that those early minutes can be key to saving a life.
“The way we’re looking, we’re certainly saving the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Narcan is an opioid antagonist designed to immediately revive an unresponsive person experiencing a drug overdose.
Municipal police carry Narcan in their vehicles, which is provided for free by Good Fellowship Ambulance and EMS in West Chester.
“Our Board of Directors funded a project to distribute Naloxone at no cost to all Chester County police departments,” said Ethan Healey, Good Fellowship’s law enforcement liaison and EMS education specialist. “We have no grants or funding, so this is all our own money. It’s one of our missions to save lives.”
In fact, Good Fellowship is the only ambulance company in Pennsylvania to provide Narcan and the training for free to the police county-wide.
The police go through an online training, which takes roughly 18 minutes, and then Healey goes out to each police department for practical training.
“I have, so far, 35 police departments (in the county) participating,” Healey said.
Along with them, state police, firefighters and, as of July, EMTs carry the life-saving medicine.
The work of Good Fellowship and state Sen. Andy Dinniman brought about the opportunity for EMTs to carry and administer Narcan.
Surprisingly enough, when Narcan was first being distributed to police departments throughout the county, Healey was receiving negative feedback from the community.
“I’ve had parents of addicted children tell me police officers wouldn’t administer it — they just want to lock them up,” he said.
Bohn knows those feelings are far from the truth.
“There will always be, to some degree I guess, cynicism,” he said. “When you put a name, a face and a family to the individuals, I’m certain the perspective or view would change. The bottom line for us is we’re here to serve and protect the public and preserve life and property. This is an additional tool we believe to be hugely beneficial.”
Over the months, people have softened their views and realized the good Narcan is doing in the hands of the police and now the EMS.
“The community is thrilled and are very grateful because it’s saving lives,” Healey said.
Having a place such as Good Fellowship not only delivering the product, but also provide the training is something police departments are not taking for granted.
“We’re certainly blessed,” Bohn said. “All of our officers received that training from Good Fellowship. It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with this, but this is certainly the reality. This is a great tool.”
So far in 2015, there have been nine saves by police with the use of Narcan in the county, Healey said.
“The first save came from the East Brandywine Township Police,” he said. “(The Narcan) was only in their car for two days before they used it.”
The most recent save came Monday from the West Chester Borough Police Department when two officers, Cpl. Lee and Patrolman Murray, administered two doses of Naloxone and revived a 22 year old in East Bradford.
In fact, Good Fellowship has even taken it a step further and provides free training programs for members of the community.
The program, called “Project Naloxone” and in partnership with the Chester County Department of Drug and Alcohol Services, provides education on how residents can acquire Narcan and how to then use it in an emergency situation.
Though Narcan won’t be able to save everyone who may overdose, officials believe it’s at least a huge step in the right direction.
“Some people who overdose will never come back, but if we can save a life, there’s always hope,” Bohn said. “There’s always an opportunity to save a life and every life is a valuable one. This gives hope that you can bring someone back. This is somebody’s son or somebody’s daughter. The impact this has on families is tremendous.”