Narcan overdose kit funding to shift in Snohomish County
Police departments may need to buy kits
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — A funding shift in how police departments can equip field officers with naloxone, the life-saving opioid overdose reversal spray, now has the county’s health district considering whether to become an in-between source that can provide the sprays.
Otherwise, police departments may need to start getting the kits on their own or asking the county for grants.
Naloxone, sometimes sold as Narcan, is the overdose reversal spray credited with reducing overdose deaths.
EMTs and paramedics at fire departments almost universally carry Narcan, and most fire agencies have the supplies in their budgets, a survey of fire districts showed. “We’ve been carrying Narcan for literally decades,” said Fire District 7’s Deputy Chief of Emergency Medical Services, Scott Dorsey.
Since 2015, police officers began carrying naloxone to join the fight against overdoses from heroin and pills. So far it’s been supplied through a county pilot project to fight opioid overdoses, but the county alerted police departments that this program is concluding. The pilot project was largely grant-funded.
Naloxone’s importance is not being debated. It can reverse an overdose within two to three minutes and lasts up to 90 minutes, giving emergency services time to arrive. Without it, opioid overdose causes breathing to shut down leading to brain damage within four minutes and death within 10.
On a 911 call, police and fire are dispatched simultaneously to overdoses, Dorsey said. The benefit of law enforcement carrying naloxone is because on the streets and in the woods, it’s usually police officers who encounter people overdosing.
He noted that the police handle the “slumpers” —people overdosed in cars — before fire personnel are allowed to approach, because of situational safety concerns.
Cumulatively, it cost $45,000 to supply police with Narcan kits this year. The Everett Police Department and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office took the largest supply amounts.
A spokesman for County Executive Dave Somers’ office, Kent Patton, emphasized in an interview that police departments would be able to get Narcan, just differently.
Somers is earmarking $250,000 from the county’s chemical dependency and mental health (CDMH) sales tax revenue toward the Opioid Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) group which is combatting the epidemic.
Patton said cities could request to buy Narcan from that $250,000 earmark. And, he said, any city can buy naloxone kits from any pharmacy. (The public can buy naloxone, too.)
Somers’ budget is still awaiting approval by the County Council; the council might finish its budget work around Thanksgiving.
The Snohomish Health District, meanwhile, may consider having the county’s health agency make a large request to buy Narcan to become a countywide supplier. It’s an option before its health board, which is made up of 15 elected officials including all five County Council members.
Why isn’t the county setting aside money specifically to supply Narcan to the police departments?
Patton said city officials said they’d rather “fund it themselves” and asked for more streamlined ways to get naloxone kits. Patton said the complaint was that when buying kits paid for by grant funding, a city had to go through a mound of paperwork to meet stringent grant guidelines. That is burdensome for small cities that might ask for $1,000 to $2,000 worth of kits, which is what Monroe, Marysville and Edmonds each did last year, Patton said.
Everett Police asked for $10,000 worth of Narcan last year. A kit with two doses costs about $70 each from the contractual vendors emergency agencies work with.
The county surveyed police departments on what they would do if naloxone wasn’t automatically available. Some departments responded they’ll need funding help.
The Everett Police Department, for example, responded it would like to continue supplying Narcan to officers, but budget could be a hindrance.
The Lynnwood Police Department, though, said it’s prepared to continue supplying its officers with Narcan kits in 2020 and will include this cost in its preliminary departmental budget. Lynnwood asked for about $5,000 worth of kits last year.
Statistically, six times a month, a police officer somewhere in the county is administering naloxone to a patient to prevent an overdose.
Opioids are obtained by prescription, and on the black market. They include medications such as Oxycodone, Morphine, codeine, Fentanyl and heroin. Dosing for pill forms obtained on the street can be deceiving. Black market pills that look like prescribed drugs can sometimes be hand-pressed by dealers appearing to be a known drug to the user, when in fact it carries a much higher dose, said Shari Ireton, Director of Communications for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. She said black market pills are sometimes pressed with Fentanyl, a prescription opioid used to treat cancer pain that is 80 to 100 times stronger than Morphine. One such drug, called M30, recently killed a Ballard teen.
Discussion at the Snohomish Health District this month circled around who would fund future Narcan kits, and what role the county would take to maintain that availability.
It was discussed by the district’s board this month, and a committee will prepare a formal recommendation, to be presented to the health board on Nov. 12.
The committee is currently suggesting to have a Health District supply of Narcan available to cities participating in the Health District’s per-capita funding request from city budgets, Snohomish Health District spokeswoman Heather Thomas said. The district asks cities for up to $2 per head from cities in trade for services; most cities give money, including Snohomish and Everett.
Cities would get a suite of services that could include purchasing of Narcan, tracking of inventory and expirations, data collection upon deployment of a kit, and community outreach and trainings.
Three other options before the health district committee are to:
• Take a coordination role by transitioning the Narcan program to the Health District and handing the funding of Narcan to other agencies.
• Have the Health District request a portion of the $250,000 in the proposed county budget to make the Health District a Narcan supplier, or to
• Dedicate Health District staff resources to find grant opportunities.
As for the county pilot project launched in 2015, Patton said it’s ending because three of its goals are now complete: Police officers are trained on using naloxone, the public is aware of naloxone’s benefits and overdose incident reporting is now routine.
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