SPRINGFIELD — Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood is pleased to announce that the Springfield Police Department has surpassed a significant milestone in its ongoing Narcan program, reaching 250 lives saved in just over two years.
Today, Aug. 31, is recognized as International Overdose Awareness Day. The day serves as a way to raise awareness about fatal and non-fatal overdoses, educate the public, and encourage action and discussion around overdose prevention. It is also meant to recognize the grief felt by family and friends whose loved ones have been lost to addiction or have been permanently injured as a result of an overdose.
Springfield Police officers began carrying nasal Naloxone (Narcan) on March 19, 2019. On Aug. 5, the department administered its 250th live-saving dose. The department is currently at 264 saves.
Narcan, an opioid antagonist, can quickly reverse the effects of a potentially fatal painkiller or heroin overdose by binding to opioid receptors and reversing or blocking the effects of other opioids, quickly restoring normal breathing. Narcan is not dangerous if administered to a person who is not overdosing and it has no potential for abuse.
Implementing the Narcan program in Springfield and committing funding to purchase the medication was one of Commissioner Clapprood’s first initiatives when named acting commissioner in February 2019. Once beginning the program, Springfield officers administered Narcan 72 times in 2019, 100 times in 2020 and 92 times in 2021 as of Aug. 31.
Data by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) showed that opioid-related overdose deaths that occurred in Springfield more than tripled between 2014 and 2018, increasing from 31 in 2014 to 108 in 2018, and almost doubled between 2017 and 2018 alone. These recorded deaths include any opioid-related overdose death in Springfield, including deaths that occurred at Springfield-area medical centers.
“With evidence that opioid-related overdose deaths were affecting our community and increasing at appalling rates in the several years prior to starting the program, equipping officers with Narcan became a clear and urgent need and continues to be an important lifesaving tool. Having Narcan in an officer’s patrol car and immediately at their disposal can save crucial seconds in a situation where someone is suffering the effects of an opioid overdose,” Commissioner Clapprood said. “Saving 250 lives using this medication is an outstanding achievement and I am proud of the difference this program is making in our community. We are continuing to fight the opioid epidemic here in Springfield, and it is important to not only bring awareness to this medication that has saved many lives in our city, but also to those lives that have been lost to addiction, especially on this Overdose Awareness Day.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released provisional drug overdose death counts in July showing approximately 93,000 predicted overdose deaths in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The estimate indicates an approximately 29% increase from 72,000 overdose deaths in 2019. The data also estimates that 60% of overdose deaths in 2020 involved fentanyl.
In Massachusetts, opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 5% from 2019 to 2020, according to Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) data released in May. Of the 2020 opioid-related overdose deaths where a toxicology screen was available, fentanyl was involved in 92% of overdoses.
COVID-19 restrictions like quarantining and social distancing measures are thought to have exacerbated drug overdoses during 2020 because it was more difficult throughout the pandemic for those struggling with substance use disorder to access health resources and prevention and recovery services.
In Springfield, Narcan is attached to the automated external defibrillator (AED) in every marked, unmarked and undercover car used by the department so that each of the approximately 500 sworn officers who have access to an AED also have access to Narcan. Additionally, Narcan is available to all bureaus and in all satellite locations, and is stationed throughout the public safety complex.
Proper use of the medication is taught to officers during the police academy as well as each year during in-service training. As part of the training, officers learn the appropriate circumstances for Narcan use, how to administer doses and proper disposal methods after a dose is given.
The program was originally begun in 2019 using department funding. The Hampden District’s Attorney’s Office has committed grant funding in recent years to provide Narcan for police and fire departments in the county, which provides the Springfield Police Department with funding to replenish its supply as needed.
“God Bless our brave and dedicated men and women of the Springfield Police Department. Day in and day out our SPD officers continue to do their job of serving and protecting our community. This has never been more evident than with the increase in opioid-related overdoses,” Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said. “Thanks to our SPD carrying Narcan, they can immediately respond to these unfortunate situations and save lives and just as important, steer them towards recovery program assistance. Since SPD started carrying Narcan in their vehicles over 250 lives have been saved, a testament to their selfless service to our community and those in need.”