Two years ago, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration sent out a warning to law enforcement officers across the country about the deadly consequences of mishandling the powerful opioid fentanyl.
In it, two Atlantic County, New Jersey detectives recalled what happened after they were exposed to a tiny amount of the drug that puffed out of an evidence bag as one zipped it shut.
“I thought that was it,” one of the detectives said. “I thought I was dying. It felt like my body was shutting down.”
Given the danger his staff potentially faces every day when dealing with drug cases, Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton likely sleeps a little better knowing that every deputy and detention staff member now carries an opioid overdose reversal drug and has been trained in its use.
“We know there are a lot of safety hazards in being exposed to fentanyl,” Holton said. “It can be absorbed through your skin and just a small amount can be deadly.”
Narcan — the brand name for Naloxone — is an easy-to-administer nasal spray that alleviates the symptoms of an opioid overdose within 3 minutes after being provided to a victim.
“It’s been proven to save lives across the country,” Holton said. “I wanted to make sure that our folks had it.”
A $3,000 Montana Board of Crime Control grant helped pay for the initial supply of the medication now carried by more than 50 field officers and detention staff. Additional funding for the program has been acquired through the state.
Two Ravalli County deputies, Joe Marble and Vlad Mykhaylyuk, are now certified as master trainers. Holton said Undersheriff Travis McElderry spearheaded the project last fall to obtain the original funding.
“It’s not costing the local taxpayer a dime,” Holton said. “We often beat the ambulance to medical calls where this could save a life. It would be great if we never had to use it, but just the prevalence of opioid drugs today makes this an important step. We’ve seen overdoses occur here in Ravalli County.”