There are 58 names that won’t be tallied at the end of the year as drug overdose deaths in the state of Mississippi.
According to recent statistics, Mississippi law enforcement officers and first responders have saved those lives since the distribution of naloxone, or Narcan, was launched in August 2017.
But initially, there were those who criticized the idea of putting naloxone directly into the hands of law enforcement and first responders aside from EMTs and paramedics who were already carrying it.
“A year ago we said, ‘We’ve got this free Narcan. Who wants it?’ and nobody raised their hand,” said Angela Mallette of Stand Up, Mississippi. “But MBN and MHP set a great example, and the progress on that forefront has been huge.”
But Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher knew that with the opioid crisis increasing in Mississippi, the move was integral to the fight.
“I don’t want to come across like I had a crystal ball, but my vision of what was ahead was that we would save lives. Honestly we thought it would be a success if we saved anybody,” he said. “Now we’ve had around 58, which is pretty good. We can’t run the flag up and claim victory just yet, but this is progress.”
The Department of Mental Health has distributed approximately 10,000 doses of naloxone and trained more than 5,700 personnel at more than 200 law enforcement and first responder agencies, fire departments, college campus police, and school safety offices throughout the state.
“It is difficult to ignore the devastating impact opioids have had on nearly every Mississippi community,” said Diana Mikula, executive director, Department of Mental Health. “Our goal is to reach as many first responders as we can and teach them to recognize the signs of overdose, administer naloxone, and save lives. We also emphasize the importance of connecting individuals to treatment services immediately following an overdose.”
The D’Iberville Fire Department recently started carrying Narcan, Fisher said. Almost immediately after training, members of the department had two saves.
Across the Pine Belt, responders have saved 10 people from fatal overdoses with Narcan. Carroll County has saved eight, Mallette said.
“One law enforcement officer we trained reported using naloxone the very same day to save a life,” said Mikula. “The training sessions are designed as train-the-trainer events so participants can teach opioid overdose signs and naloxone administration throughout their entire agencies and communities.”
Death tolls from opioid and heroin-related overdoses drove the three-year rise in drug overdose deaths in Mississippi from 99 in 2015 up to 256 for 2017.
“We recognized that local police officers often got to the scene while the victim was still alive, and had to wait until rescue personnel arrived,” said Fisher. “Something needed to be done and done quickly to help stop the unnecessary deaths.”
Training organizers will continue to supply naloxone for law enforcement and first responder agencies during the remainder of 2018. Past that, Fisher said, authorities are trying to map what the best outreach and prevention plan will be: should education on the issue begin in elementary school? In college?
“I would encourage parents to spend a little bit more time talking to their children about this, just sit down and talk to them,” Fisher said. “And I’d encourage school officials to talk to them about it too. It’s a conversation that needs to be had.”
People also need to understand that Narcan doesn’t cure the addiction, Mallette said. “I think the most important thing that I try to drive home when we talk about Narcan is that it doesn’t take the place of treatment,” she said. “They still need to go get treatment for their disorder.”
Stand Up, Mississippi is a state-wide initiative to end the opioid crisis in Mississippi by raising awareness about substance use disorder and providing the life-saving drug naloxone to law enforcement officers and first responders across the state. The initiative is a collaboration of seven state and federal agencies including the MDMH, DPS, Mississippi Board of Pharmacy, MBN, Mississippi Department of Human Services, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“It is difficult to ignore the devastating impact opioids have had on nearly every Mississippi community,” said Mikula. “Our goal is to reach as many first responders as we can and teach them to recognize the signs of overdose, administer naloxone, and save lives. We also emphasize the importance of connecting individuals to treatment services immediately following an overdose.”