A recent settlement involving the pharmaceutical company Pfizer will provide law enforcement and fire departments statewide with a product that could aid in preventing opioid overdoses and protect officers during drug searches.
Within the next 30-60 days, law enforcement agencies should be able to apply for a voucher to get vials of the anti-opiate medication Naloxone, Attorney General Jeff Landry said during a press conference Monday. He said the settlement provided $1 million for the agencies to get vouchers for the medication.
Each voucher, developed by the Louisiana Department of Justice, will be good for 10 dosages of Naloxone that can be filled be a local pharmacy. Law enforcement can request additional vouchers as they need them.
Naloxone blocks the effects of opiates on the respiratory tract, Landry said.
“The more opioids you take, the more shallow your breathing becomes,” he said. “It certainly can be the difference between life and death.”
Landry said the program came about with help from Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia. Mills, a pharmacist, chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
He said Naloxone will give law enforcement another tool in the fight to end the ongoing “opioid epidemic that is sweeping the state.” Currently, more people nationwide are dying from opioid abuse than traffic crashes, Landry said. New Orleans has more deaths related to opioid abuse than murders.
“That is a sobering number,” Landry said. “It tells that we have a problem.”
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said opioid abuse isn’t as prevalent locally, when compared to New Orleans. But it “is becoming a problem,” he said.
“We still have a lot of drug overdoses just like any other community,” Mancuso said.
Mancuso said the Naloxone will also aid law enforcement when they are handling opiates during a search. He spoke of an incident last week in Ohio where an officer overdosed after accidentally touching what is believed to be fentanyl, a powerful synthetic that is often mixed with heroin. The officer survived.
“That’s how dangerous these drugs are,” Mancuso said. “It’s protection for all of us.”
Jeff Davis Parish Sheriff Ivy Woods said the parish is struggling to control a bad opioid problem. He said there have been “2 to 3 overdoses in the last two weeks,” and almost 98 percent of inmates currently incarcerated are there because of drug-related crimes.
“Our main concern is the livelihood of our people,” Woods said.
Another plus, Mancuso said, is that Naloxone has no side effects if it is administered to someone who isn’t overdosing on opiates or other drugs, but is showing symptoms similar to one.
Landry said the case involved a prescription drug Pfizer had on the market in the late 1990s. He said some drug manufacturers were delaying the generic version of the drug to keep prices high.