Portland police now equipped with 'miracle drug'

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PORTLAND — In a move Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said reflects a change in his attitude, city patrol officers on Sept. 30 began carrying the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

Known by its Narcan tradename, naloxone blocks the effects of opioid overdoses.

“I don’t think Narcan is a long-term solution,” Sauschuck said at a press conference outside police headquarters at 109 Middle St. “But it is a miracle drug. I think (carrying) it is a major milestone from a law enforcement perspective.”

Narcan is already carried and administered by city medical emergency crews who are part of the Fire Department.

Sauschuck has preferred to let paramedics administer Narcan to stabilize an overdose victim, because they and police generally arrive together at overdose calls.

“(But) having our officers carry Narcan is a logical component to this effort for those times in which we are the first to arrive on scene,” the chief said.

Should police and paramedics arrive together, officers will not be expected to administer the drug.

“If they walk in together, paramedics are going to make the determination,” Sauschuck said.

He said the intent is to stabilize a victim to get them more medical care. A full dose of Narcan can completely stop an overdose, but when the recovering victim is revived, they can be disoriented, physically ill, combative or suffer from withdrawal. 

Sauschuck thanked City Manager Jon Jennings for his support on the new policy, which Mayor Ethan Strimling also endorsed.

“Since my first day in office, I have heard from the recovery community that this was one of their top priorities,” Strimling said in a Sept. 30 press release. “I know we must always measure how much we can expect of our officers with meeting community need and, once again, the Chief has found that balance.”

Overdose statistics remain grim in the city and state. From January through June, the state Office of the Medical Examiner recorded 189 overdose deaths in Maine, 21 of them in Portland. In 2015, the state recorded 276 overdose deaths.

Sauschuck said his officers have responded to more than 200 overdose calls this year, with 105 related to opioids.

Narcan is set to become more widely available to the public after the Legislature approved retail sales earlier this year, overriding a veto by Gov. Paul LePage. Guidelines regulating the sales have not been drafted by the state Board of Pharmacy.

While conceding the need for his patrol officers to carry it, Sauschuck said much more needs to be done to provide treatment to opioid addicts.

“I’m not happy, in the sense we are not doing enough,” he said. “We are proud to step up to the plate to help save lives.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck on Sept. 30 displays a Narcan dose his officers are now carrying to respond to opioid overdoses.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.