Costa Mesa police add overdose-reversal drug to opioid-fighting arsenal

As communities across the country face an ongoing opioid epidemic, the Costa Mesa Police Department has equipped vehicles and staff with a fast-acting drug that can help reverse an overdose.

In the past month, all Costa Mesa police vehicles got kits containing Narcan, a nasal-spray device that administers the prescription drug naloxone, an opioid-overdose antidote.

Opioids include powerful legal prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl and oxycodone, as well as illegal substances like heroin.

“As unfortunate as the opioid problem is, we have a tool to help,” said Det. George Maridakis, one of two staff members who received extensive training on how to use the kits and train others to use them.

Each bright yellow hard-case kit costs $75 and includes two single-dose Narcan dispensers, a protective face mask and goggles. The boxes go alongside the first-aid kits already furnished in police vehicles.

The department bought 100 kits, which were distributed in September to the fleet of more than 50 vehicles, along with various locations, including the watch commander’s office and the crime scene investigation lab.

Though naloxone is a prescription drug, pharmacists in California can dispense it without a prescription in non-emergencies if they have the required training in its use and how to screen patients.

Before the Narcan kits’ introduction, there was some hesitation in the Police Department related to fears of liability or that dispensing the drug is invasive, Maradakis said.

However, he said, naloxone is harmless and has no effects other than reducing or reversing overdose-related symptoms.

Before the kits, police officers were limited in the tools at their disposal in an overdose emergency.

“The only thing we could do if they were in respiratory arrest or respiratory distress is start CPR,” Maridakis said. “This is just another tool that we can use.”

The drug not only can help protect opioid users from an overdose but also protect first responders, police said.

Police are at risk of overdose from unintended contact with or inhalation of substances during investigations or interactions with opioid users, authorities said.

Contact with quantities of fentanyl as small as a grain of rice can cause overdose, Maridakis said. Police and other first responders across the country have been facing that hazard with the rising consumption of the synthetic drug, which is similar to morphine but considered 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Emergency room visits stemming from opioid use increased 141% in Orange County from 2005 to 2015, with Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa among the leading cities, according to a 2017 study by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

In line with national trends, the county has seen an increase in drug overdose deaths in the past 15 years, according to the health agency.

Between 2011 and 2015, 7,457 Orange County residents went to an emergency room for treatment of opioid addiction or overdose, the report said, citing the most recent information available.

Huntington Beach, with 726 cases, was a close second to Santa Ana in opioid-related emergency room visits during that four-year period. Costa Mesa was fourth, with 559.

“Drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999, which is alarming,” Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said in a statement. “There must be a community effort of individuals, private and nonprofit organizations and the government to reduce the number of people dying in this completely preventable manner.”