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Officials announce Delco police first to carry life-saving drug

DATE: Nov. 15, 2014
CONTACT PERSON: Emily H. Harris, 610.891.4163

Just five days before the state law went into effect that allowed police officers in Pennsylvania to carry the life-saving drug naloxone, District Attorney Jack Whelan and Delaware County Council announced the full deployment of nasal naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to all Delaware County police officers. Naloxone is a drug that reverses an opiate overdose and brings an unresponsive person back to life.

The announcement was made at a press conference attended by Senator Dominic Pileggi, Gary Tennis, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol, Delaware County Police Chiefs and EMS, and members of the Delaware County Heroin Task Force.

On September 30, Gov. Tom Corbett signed David’s Law, which provided police with access to naloxone and provided Good Samaritan immunity from prosecution to those who seek help when someone overdoses. The law is named in memory of David John Massi II of Upper Chichester who died on Jan. 27, 2013 at the age of 27 of a heroin and drug overdose. The law went into effect on Nov. 29, 2014. Delaware County is the first county in the state of Pennsylvania to have its police officers trained and equipped with nasal naloxone which was funded by Delaware County Council and the Office of the District Attorney.

At the press conference, District Attorney Jack Whelan noted how quickly the law was passed and that this public safety initiative would not be possible without the support of Delaware County Council, local legislators including Rep. Joe Hackett (R. Delaware), Senator Dominic Pileggi (R. Delaware), Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks) Delaware County Police Chiefs and EMS, the Massi family, and community members. He also noted the issue remained in the forefront as a result of consistent coverage by the Delaware County Times through extensive and thorough reporting, raising public awareness. 

On March 6, county and state officials came together at the Delaware County Medical Examiner’s Office to pledge their support for the legislation proposed by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo and co-signed by Rep. Joe Hackett that would permit police officers in Pennsylvania to carry and administer nasal naloxone. Pennsylvania state law previously prohibited unauthorized individuals from administering prescription drugs including police officers. At that time, Pennsylvania has the nation's 14th-highest drug overdose mortality rate.

Officials noted that in Delaware County, police officers are often first on the scene and experts say those early minutes can be the key to saving a life. Officials and police chiefs believe equipping police with nasal naloxone will reverse the startling number of opiate related deaths that has reached epidemic proportions.

"Minutes make a difference,” said District Attorney Jack Whelan. “Those who overdose are somebody’s child and somebody’s family member. This new collaborative initiative is a matter of public safety and is foremost about saving lives. I want to express my most sincere gratitude to all of the police chiefs of Delaware County who supported this initiative and stepped up and expeditiously trained their officers.”

Delaware County Councilwoman Colleen Morrone, who is the Intercommunity Health liaison, stressed that while this new anti-crime effort is about saving lives, rehabilitation and drug enforcement are still critical to stemming the epidemic.

Naloxone is an opiate antagonist that can reverse overdoses from heroin and opioid prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Opiates and opioids bind to the opiate receptors in the brainstem of the brain, blocking the central drive to breathe. Naloxone reverses this process. Naloxone has been used for many years by doctors in emergency rooms. Police will be equipped with nasal naloxone which can delay the effects of an opioid for 90 minutes, enough time to get an overdose victim to a hospital for life-saving treatment.

This public safety initiative comes at a time when a growing number of people are struggling with heroin and prescription drug addiction in Delaware County and across the county. As more people become addicted to prescription painkillers, they turn to cheaper and readily available heroin. Over the past five years, Delaware County has had nearly 300 heroin related deaths which is more lost to car accidents and gun violence.  Since the start of 2014, there have been 41 heroin-related deaths in Delaware County.

Less than two years ago the Delaware County Medical Examiner, Dr. Fredric Hellman, reported he was seeing an alarming number of heroin-related deaths – 52 fatalities in total for the year 2012 as compared to 19 heroin fatalities in 2007. To address the epidemic, District Attorney Jack Whelan partnered with Delaware County Council in Sept. 2012 and formed the Heroin Task Force with the mission to reduce the number of heroin-related deaths. Members of the task force represent government, law enforcement, the business community, treatment providers, parents and educators. Over the past two years, the task force has developed educational and prevention campaigns for parents and students in Delaware County schools, established a Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education (NOPE) chapter, and successfully installed 28 permanent medicine drop boxes at police stations across the county collecting over 3,200 pounds of drugs since October 2013.


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