Every Tempe police officer will soon carry a supply of lifesaving naloxone for people who overdose on opioids as part of a comprehensive federal grant that also will provide treatment services to assist those facing addiction.
Tempe is one of only 12 cities, counties or tribal governments around the country to be awarded the grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Tempe grant is $2 million across four years, with the city getting $500,000 per year for a new program.
The City Council voted to formally accept the grant at its Oct. 17 regular meeting.
“The Tempe Police Department is consistently exploring ways to reduce harm in Tempe.
“This grant, along with the addition of naloxone for our officers to carry on a day-to-day basis, provides an all-inclusive approach to save lives,” said Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir.
“The collaboration with Arizona State University and La Frontera EMPACT Suicide Prevention Center allows a holistic approach to end the cycle of addiction.”
Sgt. Robert Ferraro, president of the Tempe Police Officers Association, is the project manager for the department’s effort.
In his travels across Arizona and the U.S. to meet with other law enforcement officials, he says he discovered that officers were having secondary exposures to opioids, particularly fentanyl.
Officers were starting to carry naloxone, popularly known as Narcan, for their own personal safety. The accidental—and potentially lethal—exposure happens by way of a needle stick or inhalation of the opioid in powder form.
“A couple of departments across the country have had exposures where officers have been saved by Narcan,” Ferraro said.
“That’s kind of where this all started.”
About 18 months ago, as the nation’s opioid crisis escalated, Ferraro began looking into equipping officers with Narcan. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2017, nearly a 10 percent increase from 2016.
Of those deaths, opioids were involved in 47,600 cases. Arizona was one of several states nationwide that saw a significant increase in overdose death rates.
The grant to equip officers with naloxone could go a long way toward dropping numbers in Tempe, according to Ferraro. Officers will first need to be trained in how to administer the life-saving drug in its nasal-spray form, with each officer carrying two doses.
“The important part of this specific grant that we received is the gap that it’s going to address in the aftercare,” Ferraro said.
Across the country, officers have been administering Narcan and saving lives or helping people regain consciousness. “So the person goes to the hospital and they’re discharged from the hospital and that’s it,” Ferraro said.
And, as those familiar with the nightmare of addiction know, an addict will frequently seek out his drug of choice soon thereafter—even if he or she almost died from an overdose.
Now, with the grant in place, the officer will call a dedicated line where a crisis team will go to the person’s hospital room or home within 24 hours for an intervention. For 60 days following the overdose, the grant will provide case management services for each individual encountered through the program. This includes support services like transportation, referrals and connections to treatment and recovery services.
“That really is the biggest piece of this grant—the after care,” Ferraro said.
Tempe police took the lead on applying for the grant, alongside Arizona State University and La Frontera EMPACT Suicide Prevention Center. The grant will fund a comprehensive program that includes naloxone for a full- time Tempe police officer devoted to the project; naloxone for 250 Tempe police officers, including bike and motor officers, patrol officers, parks officers, school resource officers and drug enforcement officers.
EMPACT is able to provide a one-dose naloxone kit and training to each overdose victim and a friend or family member, in case overdose occurs during or after treatment. The estimate is that Tempe police could administer naloxone to about 155 overdose victims over the course of the four years of the grant. Each case will be reported via a 24-7 phone or online system and a certified specialist will be dispatched to meet the victim, most often while still at the hospital.
Information about treatment services will be offered and, if accepted, the patient will get up to 60 days of help from an EMPACT “navigator” who can help access support. It is estimated that many will accept some level of ongoing services to try to end the addiction.
Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Chief Greg Ruiz said the grant and the resulting new program with Tempe Police is another example of public safety agencies collaborating to save lives.
“We are in the middle of a national epidemic of opioid addiction and every new idea is a chance to impact that reality for the better,” Ruiz said. “We look forward to being part of this innovative approach to help community members in crisis.”
During the four-year course of the grant, researchers at the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice will track data to help determine the effectiveness of
training and the reach and impact of the program in the community.
Tempe Fire Medical Rescue crews have long carried naloxone. In recent years, police departments have begun stocking naloxone for officers’ use in assisting overdose victims before emergency medical help arrives. Tempe wanted to approach the issue with a more robust, comprehensive program that attempts to reduce the number of people addicted to opioids.
In 2019, through approximately mid-August, Tempe Fire Medical Rescue administered naloxone to 194 people; the total for all of 2018 was 272 people.
The number of doses used each time appears to be increasing as well, believed to be because of increased opioid potency or not knowing how much was taken by the individual. Tempe does not track the number of fatal opioid overdoses each year because only the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner determines cause of death, taking into account underlying or other causes in any instances.
The City of Tempe, as part of its data and transparency initiative, maintains a dashboard of opioid overdose response statistics. It is available at tempe.gov/opioids.
According to 2015 statistics from the Arizona Department of Health Services and others, an estimated 46,000 people in the state have a diagnosed Opioid Use Disorder (OUD); and the age group with the highest number of affected individuals (37 percent of OUD cases) is people age 25 to 34. In June 2017, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared a public health emergency related to opioid use and overdoses in the state.