CHELMSFORD -- All Chelmsford police cars will now be equipped with Narcan, the drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
The Police Department is taking the proactive step amid a rise in the number of overdoses attributed to opioids like heroin or painkillers such as Oxycontin and Percocet. Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public-health emergency last month, when he allowed first responders to carry Narcan and mandated prescription monitoring by physicians, which was previously only voluntary.
"We have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts, so we will treat it like the public-health crisis it is," Patrick said at a press conference.
At least 140 people in Massachusetts have died of suspected heroin overdoses in recent months, "levels previously unseen," the state said in an announcement accompanying Patrick's declaration.
From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses increased by 90 percent, according to the state.
Among other actions the governor ordered, the state will also dedicate an additional $20 million to increase treatment and recovery services.
The proposed state budget for next year passed by the House this month also includes added funds for equipping first-responders with Narcan.
Chelmsford will also be training officers to recognize the signs of opioid overdose and how to administer Narcan, which is the brand name for the drug naloxone.
All Chelmsford officers are certified first responders, a requirement for administering Narcan, according to the department.
"As public servants, we need to take a multifaceted approach to the heroin epidemic plaguing our communities. It isn't enough to simply arrest people," Chief James Murphy said last week. "This is a public health emergency, and now we have a tool that will prevent the loss of life."
Deputy Chief James Spinney said Narcan will be "vital" in the town's fight against heroin.
"Police officers are often the first people on scene during an overdose or other medical emergency," he said. "Narcan has the power to bring people back from the brink of death with no adverse effects. It is safe for the patient, and safe for the police officer administering it."
In Lowell, the City Council voted last month to have the Fire Department review possible use of Narcan as part of its operating procedures.
Other Massachusetts police departments that have equipped police cruisers with Narcan, according to reports, include Gloucester, Newburyport, Quincy and Stoughton.
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