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First responders need tools to save lives from overdose [opinion]

The opioid epidemic continues to rage across the country — and Pennsylvania is not immune from it. It’s been seven years since it was first designated a public health emergency, and it has continued unabated in the time since.

Every day, news agencies across the commonwealth tell of the recent overdose deaths or highlight the latest synthetic drug being pushed by the illicit drug market. Unfortunately, because there is a constant drumbeat on this issue, news of the opioid crisis can almost become white noise to the public at large.

But as a law enforcement officer with 40 years of experience and as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, I can assure you that it presents a real and present danger to countless residents and
communities across the state.

The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association represents more than 1,200 command level law enforcement officers. This includes not only chiefs of police, superintendents and commissioners but the commanding officers of federal, state and industrial agencies.

While they represent different types of communities and regions — from rural areas to the suburbs to urban neighborhoods — one consistent issue they all raise is the opioid problem.

Pennsylvania’s law enforcement community is on the front lines in the battle against the opioid epidemic. The statistics are alarming. An average of 14 Pennsylvanians die every day from an overdose. Every day, my law enforcement brothers and sisters see the devastating impact opioid addiction is having on our communities.

Making this challenging situation even more difficult is the rise of synthetic opioids on the illicit drug scene. Synthetic opioids — notably fentanyl — are more potent, act faster, and stay in the body longer than traditional
heroin. For instance, fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
This lethal combination is hard to combat. In fact, there is data showing that a significant portion of overdose deaths are tied to synthetic opioids.  In 2022, 90% of the country’s opioid overdose deaths (about 72,000)
were linked to synthetic opioids.

While this is not talked about as widely, death isn’t the only outcome from an overdose. It’s estimated that for every
opioid overdose death, there are an additional 6.4 to 8.4 nonfatal overdoses. These types of overdoses can lead
to long-term physical and mental disabilities.

My members — and the law enforcement and first responder communities at large — are faced with life and
death opioid overdose situations where every second counts. This happens every day and in every part of the
commonwealth. That’s why it’s critically important that our front lines of defense, law enforcement and other
first responders, are given access to every lifesaving tool available to them.

The widespread use of Narcan has been a critical asset in our quest to stop overdoses. But synthetic opioids are
proving to be challenging, even in this regard. Their strong potency means they can often outlast the effects of
Narcan — leading to a potential re-overdose.

Researchers and medical experts are hard at work developing overdose reversal drugs that can more effectively stop synthetic opioid overdoses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved one such product. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania standing orders don’t allow for the utilization of new and innovative overdose prevention agents.

In our battle against the opioid crisis, we don’t have time to wait for bureaucratic policies to catch up with
cutting-edge medical discoveries. This is not a time or situation for narrow, restrictive language that prevents
the use of successful, scientifically proven weapons in this fight. The Shapiro administration needs to act
quickly to broaden the language of the state’s opioid response guidelines to allow for all FDA-approved opioid
overdose reversal agents to be employed within the state.

I urge the governor, state legislators, and policymakers to give the law enforcement community access to every available tool to help us save lives. Time is of the essence.

Bohn is executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

Source: Berkshire mont

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