I am writing today to set the record straight about why the Riverside Police Department utilizes Naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan.
On Sept. 10, the Riverside police and fire departments responded to a home in Riverside for a heroin overdose. In this case, police officers arrived on the scene first at approximately 3:40 p.m., which was less than two minutes after the call was dispatched.
They found a victim who had recently used heroin in what is commonly referred to as the "heroin snore." This is a medical condition close to unconsciousness, where the individual has labored breathing and is in jeopardy of dying.
First responding officers immediately administered Narcan, an antidote that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose. Their actions were immediately followed up by second dose of Narcan administered by Riverside Fire Department paramedic personnel when they arrived.
As a result of these Narcan injections, he was able to be revived. He was then given advanced medical care and transported to an area hospital by Riverside paramedics. The Riverside police and fire departments worked seamlessly, quickly and professionally to save an unconscious man who was quickly slipping away due to a heroin overdose.
What is most shocking is that the day following this save, I received several phone calls from individuals asking me, "Why expend money, time and effort to save drug addicts?"
I was completely taken aback by this. While I am not sure if they were Riverside residents or not, as they did not identify themselves, the three phone calls I received were from very angry individuals. They adamantly felt that Riverside officers should not be carrying Narcan kits in their squad cars to save heroin addicts' lives.
One of the callers told me that the Riverside Police Department is adding to the larger problem of the debt for medical funding throughout the nation by saving heroin addicts. I totally disagree.
The notion that police – in this case, Riverside police -- should not be carrying Narcan is absolutely mindboggling. I do not imagine they would feel this way if it were their own children or family member.
I am a strong proponent of having Narcan kits in squad cars. In fact, I personally believe that the state of Illinois and/or the federal government should mandate that all law enforcement agencies in the United States be required to carry these kits.
I am usually not in favor of mandates, but in this case there are many documented situations where lives are saved by administering Narcan.
The Riverside Police Department has been carrying AED devices, which are designed to automatically diagnose life threatening heart issues and treat them thereby saving lives, for years. However, I have never received a phone call stating that we should not carry them.
Moreover, the Riverside Police Department is researching carrying Epi pens for individuals who have severe allergic reactions and there has been widespread support for this.
A long-term solution to the heroin and opiate epidemic is complex and needs much more research. However, this issue should not be debated in emergency situations when officers are directly on the scene attempting to bring individuals back from the brink of death due to heroin opioid addiction.
As chief of police, I will continue to direct my officers to carry the Naloxone/Narcan kits in our squad cars. I am extremely thankful to the Riverside Junior Women's Charity for completely funding this program.
I hope our residents know that we will continue to ensure that first responders have the equipment available to make every attempt to save lives.
Thomas Weitzel, police chief
Matthew Buckley, fire and EMS chief