Witnessing an overdose? Don’t be afraid to call 911

Special series: Community voices on overdose prevention – An interview with Captain Bryan Howard, King County Sheriff’s Office

Thursday, August 31, is International Overdose Prevention Day. This week, we are sharing community perspectives on preventing overdose and addiction. We talked with Captain Bryan Howard – King County Sheriff’s Office, to learn about the Good Samaritan Law, naloxone and why it matters for saving lives.

Q: As a law enforcement agent, what should people do if they witness an overdose?
The key to saving a life from overdose is to get professional medical help as fast as possible. If you suspect a drug overdose, don’t be afraid to call 911 right away. Don’t worry about repercussions; the Good Samaritan Law Serves to protect you if you call 911.

When you call 911, be sure to explain what is happening exactly. It does not help the person experiencing an overdose if you are not honest about the emergency situation. If you believe that someone is overdosing on heroin, then say that. Police dispatch will send resources based on the anticipated need. Stay on the line.  Answer questions. That way we can locate the person in need more quickly, and we can know exactly what they need for treatment.

Q: What should you do while you are waiting for professional medical help?
While that is happening, someone needs to breathe for the victim because this is a respiratory emergency. A majority of overdose deaths are due to respiratory failure, so rescue breathing is critical and rescue breaths will help the person survive. Someone needs to give mouth to mouth breathing to the victim every five seconds until emergency services arrive.

Driving someone to the ER is not best practice. That’s because, in cases of respiratory failure, someone can die in the five minutes it takes for you to drive them to the ER.

If there is Naloxone (Narcan) available, you shouldn’t hesitate to give it. Naloxone does not hurt someone who doesn’t need it. It is important to note that if you give Naloxone, you still need to call 911 and have the person treated by medical professionals. This is because Naloxone is a short acting drug and a person can go back into overdose.

Q: You mentioned the Good Samaritan Law. What does the law do?
The Good Samaritan Law protects people who call 911 or drive someone to an emergency room. When police respond to this type of call, they are not looking at the situation as a criminal investigation; instead, police are responding with the fire department to offer help to the person who may be experiencing an overdose. If you call 911 or if someone is calling for you, then both of you are protected from any criminal prosecution. In fact, the Good Samaritan Law forbids prosecution on 911 overdose calls.

Q: When have you seen the Good Samaritan Law in action?
All the time. In our department, when we respond to 911 calls reporting an overdose, we are not conducting a criminal investigation. This is Good Samaritan Law in action. We are there to help the victim and support the fire dept. and emergency services. If drugs are present, these are confiscated and destroyed, but no one is prosecuted, as long as they call 911.

Q: Naloxone reverses overdoses. What do you want people to know about it? Where can they get it?
It doesn’t hurt people. Always administer when you believe a victim has overdosed on opiates. You don’t need a prescription to get this medication. You can you get it from most pharmacies and even Public Health. The police have it and we will help. The StopOverdose.Org website has information on what Naloxone is, training videos, and information on which pharmacies carry the overdose reversal medication.

 Q: Clearly this is now a public health crisis. How do you see law enforcement, treatment experts and public health coming together around this issue?
We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this problem. Our agencies are working together to best address the problem.

Police carry Naloxone. We make referrals to treatment providers. We encourage people to engage in treatment and we assist in giving people a ride to treatment. We partner with counselors and offer treatment referrals as opposed to arrest in some circumstances.

It is our job as public safety professionals. In our minds, people accessing help is way more important than enforcing drug laws.

Read more from Community voices on overdose prevention: We started with an audio story from Maya, an 18 year-old and in recovery. Her road to addiction started at her parents’ medicine cabinet.

Originally posted on August 30, 2017.

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