Photo courtesy LASD.
On a daily basis, law enforcement personnel are the first to arrive at the scene of a medical emergency. Many of these patients are suffering from opioid overdose emergencies and require immediate assistance.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the rate of overdose deaths jumped by as much as 20% in 2017. That translates to more than 175 drug overdoses per day across the country. These prescription opioid overdoses turned into fatal statistics because they did not receive care during critical moments.
The opioid epidemic has developed into a nationwide emergency, threatening the health of our communities. It is exhausting families, plaguing the criminal justice system, and tasking behavioral and mental health organizations to extremes. Law enforcement officers across the country are finding themselves in danger of suffering overdose, as well, from being exposed in the normal course of their duties.
The staggering facts and daily tragedies spurned Sheriff Jim McDonnell to invite law enforcement officials from other agencies, representatives from public health, mental health, and other related experts, to discuss the role of law enforcement in the opioid epidemic. The event took place on Wednesday in the East Los Angeles College Auditorium.
“I think we all recognize we are simply not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell pointed out to her contemporaries. “Law enforcement tried that in the1980s when we experienced the flood of crack cocaine into our communities, and we ended up with crowded jails but not a lot of reduction in drug use.”
With the alarming rate of overdose fatalities related to illegal consumption and accidental exposure, the risk is too great not to consider other options to curb the tide of abuse. Sheriff McDonnell stressed the need for a different approach to this epidemic, to develop effective strategies for prevention and enforcement, and to offer help for those suffering from addiction.
“I believe it starts with education and awareness,” said Sheriff McDonnell, and announced efforts within our custody system to assist inmates suffering substance abuse disorder. Access to behavioral and medically assisted treatment while in custody, and connection with continued care after release are two more methods our agency uses to encourage sobriety.
It was a little more than one year ago, Sheriff McDonnell announced groundbreaking steps in preventing the opioid overdose emergencies sweeping across Los Angeles County. Teams, not just for enforcement efforts, but to address drug prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation, were formed to take action in an integrated approach to saving lives. In 2017, more than 1,200 doses of the anti-opioid medication, naloxone, were issued to deputy personnel at three patrol stations and two bureaus, as part of the intervention pilot program. The implementation of the Narcan atomizer offers an opportunity for immediate assistance in the field and a chance for survival.
The Sheriff challenged his colleagues to continue researching new and innovative methods for impacting the tragedies and to consider both traditional and non-traditional law enforcement roles as part of the solution.