By Annie Berman
Anchorage Daily News
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Anchorage police say most officers are now carrying naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose that might otherwise be fatal.
The Anchorage Police Department’s new policy marks a departure from a longstanding practice of having Anchorage Fire Department paramedics rather than police officers carry naloxone — often referred to by its most common brand name, Narcan. In this case, the new policy states that officers will be carrying the naloxone brand Kloxxado, which contains twice the grams of naloxone per dose as Narcan.
“The majority of our officers are carrying (naloxone) now,” Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle said Wednesday during a monthly public safety meeting. “We have a few stragglers that have been on leave or haven’t been through the training, but (naloxone) is part of APD’s toolkit now.”
The decision followed growing pressure on the police department from advocates, health professionals and family members of overdose victims to change its policy on the potentially lifesaving drug as overdose deaths continued to rise in Alaska and nationwide. While most other major law enforcement agencies in the state have their officers carry naloxone, Anchorage police officers have never carried the drug until now.
A new seven-page policy provides detailed instructions about how and when officers should use the drug. It also stipulates that officers receive fire department training on how to administer it.
“The Department shall maintain a professional affiliation with the Anchorage Fire Department Medical Director who shall provide medical oversight in training, use and administration of … Naloxone,” the policy states.
In January, police department spokeswoman Sunny Guerin said in an email that “as the officers receive the training they are carrying (naloxone) with them on patrol.”
During a public safety meeting in August, Kerle said the department would consider the change, referring to a Daily News article published earlier that week. It included an interview with Dr. Mike Levy, EMS areawide medical director with the Anchorage Fire Department, who expressed openness to the idea of officers carrying the drug.
“I just read the article, and ( Dr. Levy) now says he doesn’t have a problem with us carrying it any more,” Kerle said at the time. “So we’re going to evaluate whether we should carry it,” he said.
Overdose deaths in Anchorage have nearly tripled since 2018, a spike that state officials largely attribute to the prevalence of fentanyl, an opioid many times stronger than heroin that’s often found in counterfeit drugs. Many who have died after ingesting the drug did not know fentanyl was involved.
Statewide, 245 overdose deaths were reported in 2021, the latest data on record, and six out of 10 were linked to fentanyl, according to Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. Unusually high numbers of overdose deaths linked to fentanyl have continued into 2022 in Alaska, health officials have said. Preliminary data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 247 overdose deaths in the state between August 2021 and August 2022.
Health officials encourage Alaskans to keep naloxone on hand in case of an overdose.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that officers would be carrying the naloxone brand Narcan. They will be carrying the naloxone brand Kloxxado.
Alaskans seeking naloxone can order a free kit to be delivered to their in-state address at iknowmine.org. That website also includes an opioid overdose response training that takes about 15 minutes to complete.
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