West Midlands Police is leading the way in the fight against drug-related overdoses by being the first force in the country to offer training to officers on the beat to use the life-saving medicine naloxone.
The initiative follows a hard-hitting report and recommendations made by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) David Jamieson which revealed that every three days someone dies from drug poisoning in the region, with a death every four hours in England.
The report also found that the annual cost of drugs to public services in the West Midlands is estimated to be £1.4 billion. Engagement with drug treatment is known to be the most effective way of reducing harm and naloxone can both save lives and increase engagement with treatment. It is therefore considered a key part of the force’s new approach to drugs in the West Midlands.
Naloxone is the emergency antidote for overdoses caused by heroin and other opiates/opioids such as methadone, morphine and fentanyl. The main life-threating effects of these drugs are that they can slow down and stop breathing. Naloxone blocks this effect and reverses the breathing difficulties temporarily to buy time for the ambulance to arrive.
It can be dispensed to anyone, without prescription, for the purpose of saving a life in an emergency and a number of officers in Birmingham are already carrying the intra-nasal products. Naloxone also causes no harm to those not suffering an overdose, increasing the safety of its use.
The training is voluntary for officers and is being rolled out initially to officers working in Birmingham city centre where rough sleeping and street drug use is highest. Take up has so far been high and the force are keen to roll it out more widely.
Chief Inspector Jane Bailey, the force’s drug lead, said: “This is a really innovative and exciting initiative as we continue to tackle the issue of drugs and offer help and support to those at risk from drug overdoses.
“Officers will be able to instantly administer the life-saving drug should they come across anyone experiencing an opiate overdose while out and about in the city. A sight which has sadly been experienced by officers who have had to call for paramedics to assist others under the influence of controlled drugs.
“While this is not about trying to interfere with the fantastic work of our ambulance colleagues, who of course will still attend and deal with the patient, it’s about being able to offer the initial first aid and help save a life.
“We also hope that this intervention can assist people with taking steps to get support from our specialist drug agency colleagues in an effort to turn their lives around.”
Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, who has driven through the new policy, said: “This is a key part of my approach to tackling the harm drugs cause and I am proud that we are leading the way in the West Midlands. Officers carrying naloxone on the beat, was one of my key recommendations to help reduce the harm caused by drugs. We should treat addiction as a health issue, rather than purely as an enforcement issue.
“Police officers are often the first on the scene when there is an overdose. By providing officers with training to use naloxone means we can save lives in the West Midlands.
“As well as savings lives in the immediate period after an overdose, this shows that police officers are there to support as well as enforce. I know of young people who have died after delaying calling the emergency services due to fear of prosecution. This initiative is an important symbol in showing that first and foremost all emergency services are there to protect life.
“In addition to expanding this programme within West Midlands Police, I am also committed to working with other agencies to increase the number of people who carry naloxone, so they can also intervene and save lives.
“Officers are often involved in securing scenes after fatal overdoses, sometimes for considerable amounts of time. This scheme should help to reduce the number of overdoses, meaning that as well as saving lives, it will save the taxpayer money too and free-up resources to tackle crime.”
The PCC is also working with other agencies to expand the number of organisations whose staff carry the life-saving treatment, as part of a shared ambition to make the West Midlands the leading region for naloxone provision.
Public health chiefs have backed the plans.Tony Mercer from Public Heath England said: “Deaths due to heroin and morphine account for a third of all deaths related to drug poisoning and there is good evidence that naloxone helps to prevent opiate overdose deaths.
“Public Health England in the West Midlands has signed up to the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s naloxone ambition document which aims to extend the availability of naloxone in the region.
“The new nasal naloxone is more acceptable than the current injection to people who might first come across an overdose, like the police, making it easier to reach more people who might benefit from its use.”
Training for officers has been provided by Change Grow Live.
Claire James, Associate Director of Nursing for Change Grow Live (CGL), said “ This has been a really exciting opportunity to work closely with West Midlands Police to reduce the number of potentially fatal opiate overdoses in Birmingham. The enthusiasm of officers during training to carry and administer intra nasal Naloxone as part of the first aid they provide has been amazing.
“Through our services we already provide take-home Naloxone kits and training in their use to service users, their friends and family, as well as people we engage through outreach work. This partnership with West Midlands Police means that Naloxone can now also be more effectively supplied to people who do not engage with treatment services, and who may be using substances in isolation, which puts them at greater risk of fatal overdose.
“In helping to prevent avoidable deaths from opioid overdose, Naloxone is giving people a second chance to engage with treatment services and have a drug-free life. Our hope is that many more police forces will follow suit.”
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