COP Program Saves Lives

Our state is in the grips of a rising epidemic of heroin abuse. Thousands of New York families are losing loved ones – sons, daughters, brothers, sisters – to deadly overdoses. Fortunately, there is a very simple and effective antidote that can save lives. And through a new initiative – the Community Overdose Prevention program, or COP – my office is making it available to every law enforcement officer in the state.

Called naloxone, trade name Narcan, it is easily administered by injection or nasal spray and instantly counteracts the effects of an opiate or opioid overdose. Heroin kills by depressing the respiratory system; naloxone instantly gets victims breathing again, buying more time to get to a hospital.

But not all first responders have access to this powerful public health tool. That’s why my office created the COP initiative. We are dedicating $5 million in forfeiture funds – money that in many cases was confiscated from drug dealers profiting from people’s addictions – to put this lifesaving medicine in the hands of every police officer in New York State.

Last week, I announced that the Guilderland Police Department in Albany County was the first law enforcement agency to receive a COP award. My office gave the department $2,100 to pay for35 naloxone kits, one for every police officer in the town.

The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office will receive $2,400 for 40 kits. This is just the beginning of the first round of funding; my office has committed to pay for more than 1,000 naloxone kits for 39 police departments statewide, so soon many more will benefit from this lifesaving program.

Since I announced the COP program last month, 107 law enforcement agencies from all over New York have requested more than 3,400 naloxone kits. In Western New York, eight departments have applied for nearly 300 kits.

The broad, immediate response from so many cities and towns shows how critically important naloxone is in fighting back against the scourge of heroin overdose.

A series by this newspaper in December found the number of heroin-related arrests in Jamestown tripled from 2011 to 2013, and more deaths were attributed to heroin last year than to any other drug. In 2011, opioid overdoses killed over 2,000 New Yorkers – more than double the death toll seven years earlier.

This is a statewide, and a nationwide, epidemic. Fortunately, the key to preventing more tragic deaths is easy to administer and extremely effective.

In Quincy, Mass., where every police officer is trained and equipped to administer naloxone, they have a 95 percent success rate in reversing overdoses. A pilot program by the Suffolk County Police has saved more than 170 lives since June 2012.

No wonder U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has called for all first responders nationwide to carry naloxone. And broadening access to this lifesaving drug is just what the COP program is designed to do.

For police departments that don’t yet have naloxone, my office will provide funding for the $60 kits which contain two prefilled syringes of the drug, two atomizers for administering it nasally, sterile gloves and an instruction booklet, and training in how to use them. For departments, like Suffolk’s, that already have programs in place, we will help them expand those efforts. And we will do this at no cost to counties or municipalities.

Drug abuse takes a terrible toll on New York families – in rural, urban and suburban communities alike. There is no easy answer for those struggling with addiction. However, we do have a powerful tool that can spare families greater tragedy in the event of an overdose.

The key to saving even more lives in the face of this deadly and rapidly growing epidemic is to make naloxone more widely available. Police officers are often first on the scene after a 911 call. They need to have this proven antidote at their fingertips. The COP program is putting it there.

Eric Schneiderman is the New York state attorney general.