AUSTIN, Texas — Austin police officers this month are getting their hands on life-saving medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
Narcan, the FDA-approved nasal spray that uses the medication naloxone, is now available for officers to check out at the beginning of their shift every day.
“We have, now, this other tool on our toolbelt to ensure that we can assist the community if they need that assistance,” Assistant Chief Scott Perry said in an interview with KVUE.
Last August, when the city council voted to cut millions of dollars from the Austin Police Department's budget, the council simultaneously voted to add funding for the medication for officers. Narcan was already carried by Austin-Travis County medics.
In January, APD purchased the Narcan for $160,722, according to records obtained by KVUE. Throughout the year, department leaders have been working with the City’s medical director to roll out a policy for how officers will use it.
On Oct. 1, it became available to officers.
“We're glad to have access to this type of material and to these doses,” Perry said. “Hopefully we never have to use them. But the fact that we have them, then I think it's going to greatly benefit. And I know a family that is going through somebody that has either an addiction or suffers from an overdose will be very happy that if we get there before EMS, that we have the ability to save their loved one.”
But last spring, KVUE reported on the lack of Narcan across the department. Leaders at the time were working to get the medication for every officer.
While reporting the story, the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative stepped up and donated 1,800 units of the medication, enough to equip the entire force. The nonprofit donates to police departments across the state and, at the time, had donated more than 45,000 doses to more than 180 Texas cities.
Weeks later, APD denied the donation and told KVUE in a statement that, in part, “our officers do not encounter a large number of opioid-related overdoses.”
Asst. Chief Perry said that is still largely the case, but at that time, it was too premature for the department to get the medication into the hands of officers.
“At that time, part of the reason that we sent that donation back to that vendor was because we knew there are other departments in this state that don't have the same access to the EMS system that we have here in Austin-Travis County,” he said. “We thought it was best for those systems or those other departments that didn't have that access to get that product in their hands to be able to use it to help their communities.”
According to data from Austin-Travis County EMS, medics responded to 473 overdose calls in Travis County in 2020. They administered Narcan 266 times and it worked, saving the victim’s life, 265 times.
Sometimes, APD does arrive at overdose calls before medics are on scene, according to an internal City document provided to KVUE. During a seven-month period from October 2019 through April 2020, APD officers arrived first 56 out of the 2,354 times they responded with ATCEMS to overdose calls.
Austin officers will have to review some training materials before they can start using the Narcan, Perry said. Checking it out will be part of the process when they show up for work and check out their keys for the day, he said.
The medication expires and units could be administered by police, so the city council this August included additional funding for future doses of the medication as well.
Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison was a leading force behind including the funding for the Narcan.
“Our police officers are oftentimes the first ones to respond to scenes where people have overdosed, scenes that are increasingly common due to the out-of-control opioid epidemic. Equipping them with a life-saving tool like naloxone is a safe, simple, effective and invaluable way to reinforce their vital role as guardians of our public safety,” Harper-Madison said in a statement to KVUE.
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