Following revelations that New York City has become one of the country’s largest heroin trade centers, the New York Police Department announced that nearly 20,000 officers will soon carry an anti-overdose drug in order to help save lives.
According to the New York Times, the effort will be backed by the New York State attorney general’s office, which has secured about $5 million statewide for the antidote naloxone through criminal and civil asset seizures. About 19,500 kits will be distributed to officers in New York City, with each one composed two pre-filled syringes, sterile gloves, instructions, and two atomizers that would allow officers to deliver the drug through the nose.
The program is an expansion of a pilot effort that began in Suffolk County in 2012, which has reportedly saved 184 lives.
"We can't arrest our way out of a drug problem. Naloxone gives individuals a second chance to get help," Police Commissioner William Bratton told USA Today on Wednesday.
When used on someone suffering from an overdose, naloxone is a quick-acting drug that reverses deadly side effects and restores breathing. Traditionally reserved for use in emergency rooms, the drug’s availability has become an important issue since heroin deaths began spiking across the country and US Attorney General Eric Holder declared the situation an “urgent public health crisis.”
It’s unclear exactly when officers will have the kits provided to them, but State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told reporters $1.2 million of the total funds is being diverted to the NYPD for this program.
"By providing NYPD police officers with naloxone, we are making this stunningly effective overdose antidote available in every corner of the five boroughs,” he said, as quoted by CNN. “This program will literally save lives.”
He added in a tweet that the drug has already been used to prevent two deaths in Staten Island over the weekend.
About two months ago, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also expanded access to naloxone when he declared a public health emergency over heroin overdoses and opioid addiction. He directed the state’s public health department to make sure all first responders have access to the drug, and announced it would be made available in pharmacies for those whose friends and relatives may be at risk of an overdose.
The development in New York also comes after it was revealed that there is more heroin traveling through NYC than at any time in the last 23 years. As RT reported last week, 35 percent of all the heroin seized across the US since October has been in New York state. Law enforcement officials are also discovering large, sophisticated distribution networks linking the heroin trade to various states in the Northeast.
“We’re kind of the head of the Hydra,” special narcotics prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said at the time. “This is highly organized, high volume, and it’s being moved much more efficiently and effectively to reach out to a broader user base.”