As the nation battles an opioid epidemic, the Los Angeles Police Department is expanding a program to supply officers with thousands of doses of a nasal spray to treat overdose victims.
Last year, the LAPD launched a pilot program to train and equip officers to administer naloxone, which blocks the effects of an opioid overdose. More than 6,100 officers now carry the drug sold under the brand name Narcan. Other officers are expected to receive training.
So far, officers have saved 15 people’s lives with the drug, but it did not work in two other cases, Deputy Chief Dominic Choi said. This week, the Police Commission approved the department’s request to accept a $750,600 donation from the California Health and Human Services Agency to pay for 10,008 doses.
“The officers know it’s helpful,” said Choi, who until recently served as the LAPD’s homeless coordinator. “This is really an effort by the department to help people.”
Officers have dispensed the drug to overdose victims living on the streets, including in downtown Los Angeles’ skid row, and those in homes needing emergency treatment, Choi said.
Mark Casanova, executive director of Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, said the LAPD move is significant and that he was unaware the department had used the spray to save lives.
“The bigger problem is the problem outside skid row,” he said about drug overdoses. “It’s great news that they’re using it.”
Reports of opioid-related deaths have increased across the nation in the last several years, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In 2017, the year in which the most recent data are available, Los Angeles County recorded 447 deaths due to all opioid-related overdoses, according to the California Department of Public Health. In total, California recorded 2,194 of the deaths that year, record show.
The push to make naloxone more accessible follows then-Gov. Jerry Brown signing a law in 2014 that allowed pharmacists to provide the drug without a prescription.
The state provided thousands of the nasal sprays to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in 2017.
While law enforcement often responds to medical emergencies, they previously had few tools or training to treat overdose patients. The Los Angeles Fire Department worked with the LAPD to provide 90-minute training sessions for officers.
Firefighters administer more Narcan because they handle medical calls, but LAPD officers will no longer have to stand by helplessly when they encounter an overdose victim, Choi said.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League raised concerns about the liability of officers administering a drug but “the chances of [Narcan] being harmful are very, very small,” he said.
Under a policy issued by LAPD Chief Michel Moore in December, an employee’s decision to administer or not administer the drug could not be the sole basis to initiate a complaint or an allegation of negligence. It also states that employees won’t be held liable in civil action or subject to criminal prosecution for administering the drug.
Dr. Susan Partovi, medical director for Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, said she wished the distribution happened years ago because more lives could have been saved. “There’s no downside to it, " Partovi said. “You can literally save someone’s life.”