It’s not often that drug policy reformers say, “I love what the cops are doing to help people who use drugs!”
But here I am, saying exactly that. There’s a fantastic national trend afoot, and cops are the leading way. They’re helping people who use drugs stay alive and providing emergency service in a way they never have before: they’re carrying and using the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.
Maybe you’ve been hearing a little bit more about naloxone recently. It’s certainly possible, given the wave of recent stories from across the country about police departments training and equipping their officers to use naloxone at the scene of an OD. Easily more than a dozen of those types of stories in just the past few months.
Or maybe you’ve been hearing about the wave of states now running legislation that would greatly expand access to naloxone. There’s no doubt that something fantastic is happening now. When police officers are on the vanguard of helping heroin and other opiate users stay alive and survive an overdose, it really says something incredible about how much progress we’re making as drug policy reformers.
As exciting as these innovations are, we need to be cautious about letting local governments feel satisfied that they’ve done enough to address their overdose fatality problems. While it’s important for law enforcement to possess naloxone, it is even more important for all people likely to witness an overdose to have that same access.
Naloxone only works to prevent death when it’s used immediately, when the overdose is first discovered. We need to make sure we’re encouraging naloxone access and use among all people who might be present at the scene of an accidental drug overdose.
Members of law enforcement should be praised for humanely expanding their mission “to protect and serve” all members of their communities, including the ones who use drugs. As reformers, we’ve made remarkable strides in raising awareness about the preventable nature of opioid-related overdose and we’re helping to empower the same people with whom we don’t always see eye-to-eye.
But we can’t end the overdose epidemic until laypeople, including people who use drugs, have the same access to naloxone as police officers.
We’re doing well, we’re getting there, but we need to keep going. Let’s work together to make naloxone common in every pharmacy across America and available to all.
Meghan Ralston is the harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.