Anchorage

Anchorage police plan to start carrying overdose-reversing drug

police protest, naloxone, narcan, Anchorage Police, opioid

Starting next year, the Anchorage Police Department plans to equip officers with naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose that might otherwise be fatal.

The new policy, confirmed by a police spokeswoman on Tuesday, marks a departure from the longstanding practice of having Anchorage Fire Department paramedics, rather than police officers, carry the potentially lifesaving drug.

The decision came following growing pressure on the police department from advocates, health professionals and family members of overdose victims to change its policy on naloxone — often referred to by its most common brand name, Narcan — as overdose deaths continued to rise in Alaska and nationwide.

While most other major law enforcement agencies in the state have their officers carry naloxone, Anchorage police officers have never carried the overdose reversal drug.

Police officials did not publicly announce the policy change but confirmed it on Tuesday. Details about the new policy and a specific timeline were not immediately available this week. The Anchorage Police Department declined to provide a copy of the policy before it was publicly available online.

“The policy is being edited and finalized,” APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad said in an email Tuesday. “Once that has occurred, officers will be trained on both the policy and the application of Narcan. The goal is for officers to have Narcan with them on patrol in early 2023.”

Oistad said she could not provide an exact date for when the policy would be finalized, or when it would go into effect. She said that the process of implementing a new policy can take a few months.

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The policy includes a plan for training officers to carry Narcan, including when they should and shouldn’t use it, according to Jeremy Conkling, president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.

The union reviewed and approved the new policy, said Conkling, who said he was hopeful the change would have a significant impact.

“The expectation is APD officers are going to be issued Narcan, and carry it,” he said. “They’re going to address in training how exactly that will work.”

The decision to consider changing the policy came following the publication of a Daily News article about mounting calls for Anchorage police to start carrying naloxone.

During a public safety meeting in August, Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle said the department would consider the change, referring to the article published earlier that week. It included an interview with Dr. Mike Levy, Anchorage EMS areawide medical director with the Anchorage Fire Department, who expressed openness to the idea of officers carrying Narcan.

“I just read the article, and (Dr. Levy) now says he doesn’t have a problem with us carrying it any more,” Kerle said at the time. “So we’re going to evaluate whether we should carry it,”

Levy in August told the Daily News he had no issue with Anchorage police officers carrying naloxone, either to administer or distribute — as long as officers were properly trained, and as long as administering CPR remained their priority, too. He said he’d support such a move “if it was the wish of the police department leadership to do that.”

CPR cannot reverse an overdose, but it can make sure a person continues to get oxygen to their heart and brain, which Levy said is extremely important once someone has gone into cardiac arrest.

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Sandy Snodgrass, whose 22-year-old son Bruce died of fentanyl poisoning last year, has been advocating for officers to carry Narcan for months. She helped lead a demonstration in August outside of the police department’s headquarters to demand a change.

Snodgrass welcomed word of the new policy this week but said she wished it had come sooner, referring to the delay of more than three months since Kerle publicly mentioned reviewing the idea.

“I’m disappointed it’s not happening until 2023,” she said Tuesday. “I’m glad it’s happening but I don’t understand the disregard for human life.”

Overdose deaths in Anchorage have nearly tripled since 2018, a spike state officials largely attribute to the prevalence of fentanyl, which counterfeit drugs are often laced with. Many who have died after ingesting the drug did not know fentanyl was involved.

Statewide, 245 overdose deaths were reported last year, and six out of 10 were linked to fentanyl, according to Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. Unusually high numbers of overdose deaths linked to fentanyl have continued into 2022 in Alaska, health officials have said.

In light of the rise in overdoses, health officials have encouraged Alaskans to keep naloxone on hand in case of an overdose.

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Alaskans seeking naloxone can order a free kit to be delivered to their in-state address at iknowmine.org. That website also includes an opioid overdose response training that takes about 15 minutes to complete.

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Reporter Annie Berman is a full-time reporter for the ADN covering health care. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.

If you would like to make a personal, tax-deductible contribution to her position, you can make a one-time donation or a recurring monthly donation via adn.com/RFA. You can also donate by check, payable to “The GroundTruth Project.” Send it to Report for America/Anchorage Daily News, c/o The GroundTruth Project, 10 Guest Street, Boston, MA 02135. Please put Anchorage Daily News/Report for America in the check memo line.

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Reporter Riley Rogerson is a full-time reporter for the ADN based in Washington, D.C. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter's salary. It's up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.

If you would like to make a personal, tax-deductible contribution to her position, you can make a one-time donation or a recurring monthly donation via adn.com/RFA. You can also donate by check, payable to "The GroundTruth Project." Send it to Report for America/Anchorage Daily News, c/o The GroundTruth Project, 10 Guest Street, Boston, MA 02135. Please put Anchorage Daily News/Report for America in the check memo line.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.

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