Under a pilot program that got underway today, East County sheriff's deputies on patrol will carry a nasal spray that is used to counteract breathing and other problems in someone overdosing on heroin or another type of opiate.
Deputies in Santee, La Mesa and unincorporated areas near El Cajon are the first law enforcement officers in the state to test Naloxone, a generic form of a drug called Narcan, on patrols, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
"We realize that in San Diego County, overdoses are at an epidemic level, and they have been for several years," sheriff's Capt. James Bovet said.
An opiate overdose can leave the person unconscious and unable to breathe. Death could occur if the person is left untreated, sheriff's officials said.
Deputies will carry Naloxone on patrol because they are often the first to arrive at the scene when a person is suffering from an overdose, sheriff's officials said.
County Emergency Medical Services Director Bruce Haynes said Naloxone reverses the effects of opiates, which can save lives.
"Putting the antidote out in the field with first responders, such as law enforcement, for the first time really has a chance to get them the medication sooner and reverse the effects of the narcotics that are killing people," Haynes said.
Deputies will be trained to administer Naloxone when they are the first to respond to an overdose, which may keep the victim alive long enough for county EMS personnel to arrive and take the victim to a hospital, he said.
Each deputy will carry a kit containing "the antidote for overdoses from opiates," Bovet said, adding that administering the drug has no downside; "it simply brings people out of an overdose."
The six-month pilot program will help officials determine if the use of Naloxone by deputies is feasible and effective. UC San Diego researchers will assist, Bovet said.
Bovet said the sheriff's department partnered with the East County-based McAlister Institute, which will provide drug prevention and addiction treatment services during the Naloxone trial.
"It's here to save lives -- and then it's also going to hopefully stop the cycle of addiction," Bovet said.
The drug was purchased using money donated by Scripps Health. The program will be administered under the direction of county Emergency Medical Services, according to the sheriff's department.
—City News Service