SARASOTA -- The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office will be the first law enforcement agency in Florida to take advantage of a new law that allows officers to administer medication to people overdosing on heroin or other opioids.
Kaléo, the manufacturer of EVZIO -- an auto-injector of naloxone, which immediately stops the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose upon injection -- donated 800 doses worth about $320,000 to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Tom Knight announced Friday. EVZIO is a user-friendly naloxone delivery device that guides the user through the administration process, and has no negative side effects if it's somehow given to someone who is not overdosing.
"We recognize that arresting people is not the cure for addiction, and we're happy to have these auto-injectors that will be placed in deputy patrol cars after they've received their training," Knight said. "We understand preventing overdose deaths does not automatically mean the patient will overcome addiction, but it gives them and their family an opportunity to enter into addiction recovery programs."
The 12th Judicial District, which consists of Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto counties, had 48 deaths due to heroin and 51 due to fentanyl in 2014, and treatment officials anticipate those numbers will be higher in 2015. The heroin supply in Manatee and Sarasota has typically been cut with fentanyl, a strong painkiller that medical professionals describe as about 80 times more potent than morphine.
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"In the past three months, from July to September, deputies in the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office have responded to 55 opiate overdoses," Knight said. "Five of them were deaths."
Knight said he hopes to have the naloxone out with deputies within a month.
Law enforcement and other non-medical first responders were authorized to carry naloxone under a law sponsored by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June. But high costs associated with the medication have kept some from participating.
"Saving somebody's life isn't really something you put a price tag on," Knight said.
Manatee County had the highest per capita rate of heroin and fentanyl deaths in 2014.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office, the Palmetto Police Department and the Bradenton Police Department have said they haven't looked into donation possibilities yet, though Bradenton Chief Michael Radzilowski said it was something that law enforcement would be discussing.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said if any other first responders should get donations of the naloxone, he would hope it be firefighters. In the cases of medical emergencies, such as an unconscious person, EMS and fire departments are usually first on the scene, he said.
"The chances of those folks getting there before we do is highly probable," Steube said. "So if anyone were to get these donations, I would hope it would be them."
If donations of naloxone were available, Steube said he'd still have to look into additional issues, such as storage of the drug and training his deputies.
Regardless, Knight said if the naloxone could save just one life because his deputies had the drug on hand, then why not equip them with it?
"We've had some issues, not just in Sarasota County but statewide, with heroin and opiate issues," Knight said. "And we're trying to save people's lives."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby