FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Officers in Cumberland County will soon make their 200th rescue using naloxone to try to reverse a drug overdose.
Fayetteville police carry the medication, which combats the effects of an opioid overdose, and the department administers it more often than almost all other law enforcement agencies in the state. Wilmington and Winston-Salem police also have high numbers of rescues.
“We’ve used naloxone 194 times on 167 people,” Fayetteville Police Capt. Lars Paul said. “Some people are repeat overdose victims whom we’ve saved multiple times. Some people require more than one dose depending on the substance.”
One of those rescues came in May when a Fayetteville officer suffered the effects of exposure to fentanyl while serving a search warrant. His fellow investigators saved him.
Fentanyl is now the most common cause of drug overdoses, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The study found that fentanyl-related overdoses doubled each year from 2013 to 2016, a ten-fold increase overall in that span.
Heroin-related overdose deaths tripled, while cocaine deaths doubled from 2014 to 2016.
Fayetteville police spokesperson Shawn Strepay said the city’s death investigation statistics from 2017 classified 45 deaths due to overdose, a spike from about half that in 2016.
Investigators said 30 people overdosed and died within the city limits from January 2018 through early December. Officers administered naloxone 49 times in the same period.
Cumberland County deputies also carry naloxone.
“Nationally, it’s getting worse. There’s more deaths than there were before. I’m sure it’s going to be staggering the number this year compared to last year, however, there’s more naloxone out there in the community right now,” Paul said.
“Organizations like the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and Project Lazarus, along with the passive of the Good Samaritan law, have helped to reduce community overdoses. There’s a lot more naloxone out there and I think addicted people are being smarter about how they use.”
Paul said it has become a common practice for heroin users to keep naloxone on hand. They also get high together so that if someone shows signs of an overdose another user can resuscitate their friend.
Jesse Bennett with the NC Harm Reduction Coalition said some people are not willing or able to stop using drugs, so it is important to minimize their risk and potential deadly outcomes.
“Recognizing that some people don’t want to stop using drugs or aren’t ready to stop using drugs, and that’s where harm reduction comes in. We’re able to meet people where they are, on their terms, and really try to evoke intrinsic or internal motivation and a desire to change,” Bennett said.
He has first-hand experience with the struggle to get clean. Bennett battled a heroin addiction for years.
“I’m a former IV drug user and a formerly incarcerated person. I’ve experienced multiple overdoses,” he said. “I was tired of going to prison, tired of overdosing, and just trying to find something different.”
Bennett received substance abuse treatment through the Raleigh-based Healing Transitions and became a social worker. He now serves as the Statewide Overdose Prevention for the Coalition, which includes coordinating syringe exchanges and naloxone distribution.
“We were in a war on drugs mentality, and coming full circle after I got into recovery, I didn’t want people like me to feel like I felt when I was using, so what we we try to do is get out there and let people know that we love them, we care about them, and just trying to prevent whatever we can,” he said.
“There’s always hope. There’s people out here that are willing to meet you where you are without judgment, without stigma, without anything, regardless of whether or not you want to stop using, we’re here for you.”
Paul said the partnership between Fayetteville Police and the Harm Reduction Coalition is vital in helping drug users get clean rather than criminalizing them for their addictions.
Fayetteville is among about a dozen cities nationwide to participate in a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. LEAD offers people involved in low-level drug crimes and prostitution, usually first-time arrestees, to receive treatment and other social services instead of being prosecuted.
“It’s basically just addicts, not dealers, and instead of arresting them for possession of heroin which typically ends up in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. We do a pre-arrest diversion straight into treatment and extensive follow up services,” Paul said.
“The solution is you have to attack from every area. You have to reverse the overdoses, but then you have to also figure out creative ways to get people out of that lifestyle.”
Paul said 30 people participating in LEAD have committed 92 percent less crime than they did before they were in the program.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services launched a four-year NC Opioid Action Plan initiative in 2017. Learn more about the project here and see state statistics through early 2018 here.