Beginning this week, many law enforcement officers across Washington County will have a new tool in fighting the opioid epidemic.
A grant from the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program will provide naloxone, a drug which reverses the effects of opioid overdose. The grant provides kits in all patrol cars in Beaverton and Forest Grove, as well as 60 kits for Washington County sheriff's deputies.
"For us to take those few minutes to administer the medication will be incredibly important for saving lives," Sheriff Spokesman Jeff Talbot said. "Obviously the bigger picture is addressing addiction and helping the overall public health problem that we're facing across the country, as well as in the Northwest."
Opioid deaths have fallen slightly in Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties since deaths peaked in 2011. Deaths have remained steady since 2013 according to a 2016 tri-county report. Half of all opioid related deaths are due to prescription pain pills, according to the report, and one in five people will be prescribed opioids in a given year.
"The opioid use, because it's so prevalent, that's what's led to this crisis," said Beaverton Police Lt. Tom McGranahan. "People will used them and get hooked on them. People that get hooked can overdose."
McGranahan said overdose situations often start as a CPR call.
"We get called on those because we have (defibrillators), so they'll send us to heart-stopping and respiratory issues," he said.
Some of the half-dozen CPR calls turn out to be overdoses. In 2014, he said, the department responded to 15 overdose calls. Two resulted in fatalities.
Emergency Medical Service providers like Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue have carried naloxone for more than a decade, but earlier forms of the life-saving medication had to be injected. The form now used by many law enforcement agencies is administered nasally.
TVF&R worked with Forest Grove Fire & Rescue to train the law enforcement agencies.
"You just spray it up the nose; it's really easy," said TVF&R Captain Kraig Moisan. "Just four milligrams sprayed really quick and it reverses the overdose almost immediately."
Moisan said the switch to a nasal form made it possible for widespread use among law enforcement, as it doesn't require medical training. Fire and medical responders are often staged behind law enforcement for safety reasons, requiring police approval to move in and give aid. If law enforcement can administer naloxone, it's more likely the medication will work in time.
"When a patient is found suspected of an opioid overdose … very often they've stopped breathing but they still have a pulse, and that's really the golden moment we're trying to capture with this type of treatment," said Shawn Wood, Quality Assurance Manager with MetroWest. "We'll administer the (naloxone) intra-nasally, and then very quickly — usually within minutes — the patient will start breathing again."
But the medication is only a temporary fix and the patient still needs to head to the hospital. Under Oregon law, police can't arrest someone on drug charges when called to an overdose.
Washington County has taken several steps to respond to addiction in the last several months, including opening a new mental health and addiction center in Hillsboro.
Talbot said he hopes to expand the program, not only within the Sheriff's Office, but to other agencies in the county.
"This is the first step in a bigger picture, which is to have it in every patrol car we can," he said.