Drug-related overdoses are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States, surpassing motor vehicle accidents at 44,000 fatalities annually. In response, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have partnered with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to implement and study a program that requires all deputies carry and be trained to use a life-saving drug in the event of a discovered overdose and then refer victims to a treatment center once they are revived.
The five-year study, which begins June 1, will examine the effectiveness of San Diego Sheriff’s deputies administering the nasal spray drug, naloxone, to overdose victims prior to the arrival of paramedics.
Each year, Sheriff’s deputies arrive on scene to approximately 150 overdose cases before emergency services personnel.
“This is the first research project to investigate if having law enforcement officers equipped with naloxone and trained to refer victims to drug rehabilitation will encourage more people to call 911 and receive treatment,” said Peter Davidson, PhD, lead study author and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Many drug users and their family members are hesitant to call for help for fear they will be arrested. We are hopeful that having deputies directly involved in saving lives will reduce that concern.”
Naloxone is used to treat opiate overdoses, such as heroin, morphine and oxycodone. The Food and Drug Administration-approved drug comes in a small kit with an applicator to create a nasal spray. A squirt in each nostril, like a flu vaccine, puts the medication in the bloodstream.
“It usually works between 30 seconds and two minutes and quickly interrupts the opiate response, which restores the victim’s ability to breathe. It is completely non-addictive and non-toxic,” said Davidson.
The new study is an extension of a 2014 San Diego County Sheriff's Department pilot project in which deputies in Santee were trained to use naloxone and refer revived victims to the McAlister Institute, a county-wide drug treatment provider.
During that six-month pilot, 83 deputies were trained and naloxone was used 12 times, with deputies referring nine victims to drug treatment. Uptake of referrals was unexpectedly high, with a third attending drug treatment.
"Combining resources with UC San Diego is advantageous to the community in every way," said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore. "The use of naloxone to prevent opiate overdoses has saved many lives already. The human toll of drug addiction is devastating and even one life saved makes this a huge success."
The study is supported, in part, by the National Institutes of Health (1R01DA040648).