Staff Editorial

Cedar Rapids police smart to embrace harm reduction

The Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition gives out free Naloxone kits during a mobile outreach event in downtown Cedar Rapids on Monday, April 23, 2018. The kits include directions on use of  the medication to reverse an opioid overdose. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition gives out free Naloxone kits during a mobile outreach event in downtown Cedar Rapids on Monday, April 23, 2018. The kits include directions on use of the medication to reverse an opioid overdose. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids police are taking an important step in the fight against opioid overdoses.

The department is pursuing an agreement to purchase naloxone to be carried by officers, Chief Wayne Jerman said this week. Also known under the brand name Narcan, naloxone is an opioid antagonist which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose from prescription painkillers or illicit drugs such as heroin.

That is a welcome response to a real and growing problem in Iowa and around the country. The Iowa Department of Public Health reported there were 180 opioid-related deaths in Iowa in 2016, and the number probably surpassed 200 last year. Final numbers are not yet available.

We hope the department moves swiftly in equipping officers with this important tool. There is no doubt it will save lives in our community.

When the purchase is finalized, local officers will be trained how to administer naloxone through a nasal spray. When officers encounter subjects experiencing an opioid overdose, the treatment takes hold almost immediately, keeping people alive until more extensive medical attention can be provided.

This is the latest example of public institutions embracing a harm-reduction approach to battling the nation’s opioid epidemic. In 2016, the Iowa Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill to expand access to opioid antagonists such as naloxone. Many Iowans now can buy the treatment at a local pharmacy without a prescription.

Last month, pharmacies across Iowa hosted the first Free Narcan Access Day, with more than 2,000 Narcan kits provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy and the Iowa Pharmacy Association. The kits typically cost up to $150 each.

Credit is due to organizations such as the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition, which has lobbied state and local governments to employ harm-reduction strategies. Public health experts have supported such projects for years, but law enforcement agencies often have been slow to adopt, worrying they might encourage the use of dangerous drugs. That harm reduction philosophy is demonstrated in the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition unofficial slogan: “Meet people where they’re at.”

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The reality is there is no hope for recovery for people who die of a drug overdose. Public agencies, including police departments, are tasked with protecting the public’s health and well-being. Naloxone is an important way to do that.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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