Sheriff’s department seeks grant

Heroin can kill — inside and outside the city limits.

That’s why the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department is seeking funding to obtain a drug often described as an antidote to heroin overdoses, Sheriff Matt Myers said.

It’s an effort that follows a recent decision to allow 63 officers with the Columbus Police Department to carry two doses of the drug Naloxone, often referred to as Narcan, with them at all times.

The startup initiative to provide all merit and reserve deputies with the same dosages of the drug is being spearheaded by Capt. Dave Steinkoenig, commander of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Road Patrol Division.

Narcan will also be kept at the Bartholomew County Jail for inmates, Myers said.

Although funding hasn’t yet been obtained, some deputies are already training with an emergency room physician at Columbus Regional Hospital to learn to properly administer the drug, Steinkoenig told the Bartholomew County commissioners.

“I can’t sit and wait,” Myers said. “This saves lives. I have to move forward on this.”

The commissioners gave the sheriff’s department their blessing to seek a $5,000 grant through the Columbus Regional Health Foundation. County ordinances require all outside funding requests to be approved by the commissioners before an application is made.

Myers describes the chances for a grant approval as “very promising.”

“But even if we’re turned down, I’ll go elsewhere to find the money,” Myers said.

If the funding request is approved, the two largest law enforcement departments in Bartholomew County will be able to obtain the drug through Columbus Regional Hospital at lower prices. Under this program, the cost of two doses of Narcan is $35, Steinkoenig said.

Narcan is carried on all ambulance runs, Myers said. But it is often law enforcement officers — rather than paramedics — who are the first on the scene of an overdose, Myers said.

“When you have 19 deaths (combined total for 2013 and 2014) with heroin, and you have a drug that can buy time, it only makes sense for law enforcement to carry this,” the sheriff said.

Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher, who has been on the scene of many of those deaths, said if deputies save only one life with the drug, it’s worth any investment into the program.

“The initial startup costs are the biggest factor, and keeping the program going after that doesn’t cost much,” Fisher said. “The drug is also very easy to administer.”

Fisher said having Narcan available could give some heroin users a false sense of security, but most of the recent overdose victims don’t fit that description, Fisher said.

“It’s something most of these folks were just experimenting with, and probably wouldn’t do it again if they had survived their first overdose,” Fisher said.

Allowing a county department to request a grant through the county-owned hospital was described Monday by county commissioner chairman Larry Kleinhenz as “very unusual.”

In response, Myers noted former Sheriff Mark Gorbett did not seek a line-item increase in his departmental budget over his entire eight years in office.

“Our funding is so tight that I don’t feel comfortable spending $5,000 for any new program at this point,” said Myers, who added his department is still exploring ways to fund body cameras for deputies.

“You may see us going into the community more to ask for help until our public funding is increased,” Myers added.

About Naloxone

Developed in the 1960s, Naloxone (generic name: Narcan) is a medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdose. It will usually reverse the depression of the central nervous system, respiratory system, and hypertension caused by heroin and similar narcotics.

While the drug is most commonly administered by physicians and nurses intravenously, it’s usually given to overdose victims by first-responders as a nasal spray.

Naloxone is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system.

Source: Dictionary of Pharmacological Agents

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.