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Why every cop should carry naloxone

With the current risks posed by exposure to opioid-based substances such as fentanyl, carrying naloxone is an important officer survival strategy


A nasal-administered dose of naloxone.

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

I have a few questions for you: Do you wear your body armor? Do you practice your DT skills? Do you have confidence in your ability to accurately discharge your service weapon in a deadly-threat scenario?

My hope is that for the overwhelming majority of you, your answers are, “Yes, yes and yes.”

Okay, now another question: Do you carry units of naloxone on patrol?

My supposition is that for a significant percentage of you, your answer is, “Nope, no way and never.”

Here’s why that’s the wrong answer.

Naloxone, also available as Narcan nasal spray, is as important to your safety and survival as your vest, your hands-on skills, or your sidearm.

Self-care for accidental exposure

We’ve seen dozens of headlines on Police1 about cops who have suffered near-fatal overdoses from accidental exposure to opioid-based substances. Predominantly this has been caused by exposure to fentanyl.

Fentanyl, which has been blamed in the deaths of thousands of Americans, is also threatening the lives of police officers, forcing changes in long-standing basics of drug investigations, from confiscations to testing and undercover operations.

Fentanyl is hundreds of times more potent than heroin. It is transdermal, meaning that it can be absorbed through the skin. Further, it can be inhaled if it becomes airborne. If an officer comes in contact with anything containing the drug – and it can be added to everything from Vicodin to heroin and has even been found in cocaine coming from Mexico – the potentially deadly drug can be almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream.

Recently we saw an officer in New Hampshire exposed to an opioid-based powder during a traffic stop. The local authorities said that naloxone wasn’t administered at the scene, but that the officer was transported to a hospital, where we might reasonably conclude naloxone was used to reverse the adverse effects of the accidental exposure.

When an officer is accidentally exposed to opioids like fentanyl, following the “What’s Important Now” philosophy is to quickly give a dose (or more than one) of naloxone. It is a lifesaving antidote to forestall the effects of heroin and prescription painkiller overdoses. Considering the opioid epidemic across the United States and Canada, it seems simply logical that all cops in North America carry two or more doses of naloxone.

Just another officer safety tool

On the Policing Matters Podcast, my partner Jim Dudley and I have discussed this matter. We’ve talked about Police1 members’ response to our original segment.

Paraphrasing, I recall members saying, “I’m not a paramedic. I didn’t sign up to be a paramedic. I don’t want the role of a paramedic.”

I totally get that. I agree with it. But policy and procedure can be written in such a way that we cover both bases. Something to the effect of, “Officers shall carry naloxone on their person or in their squad car to assist a fellow officer whom they believe – based on their training, experience and judgement – is experiencing a drug overdose due to accidental exposure to opioid-based drugs in the line of duty.”

Think of naloxone just like you would any other tool used to improve officer safety. In 2015, I wrote about how the Tucson Police Department had issued IFAK (Individual First Aid Kits) to all of its police officers. The contents of the kits included things like QuickClot combat gauze, tourniquets, halo chest seals and Olaes modular bandages. The primary purpose of the IFAK kit is self-care and buddy care. This is the same reason I now recommend naloxone as an officer safety and survival tool.

With the clear and present officer safety risk posed by opioid-based substances such as fentanyl, there is no question that carrying naloxone has become an important officer survival strategy.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.