Mother urges Phoenix police to carry life-saving overdose drug

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Police Department is the largest law enforcement agency in Arizona whose officers don’t carry the opioid overdose-reversal drug Narcan, a nasal spray form of naloxone.

Officers at other area police departments, including Avondale, Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Scottsdale and Surprise, have access to Narcan and are allowed to administer the drug. In 2018, the Buckeye Police used Narcan 11 times, and the drug has been used to save two lives since January.

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Phoenix Police Department has distributed kits to only 100 specialty officers, out of a total of about 2,900 sworn officers.

Michelle Hamby of Peoria has lost two children to opioid overdoses since 2013. She firmly believes Peoria officers could have saved her daughter’s life if they administered Narcan.

“When my daughter overdosed, Peoria police were to my house in two minutes, but fire (department) did not respond for 10 minutes,” Hamby said.

She was surprised to learn that Phoenix police did not carry Narcan to administer to the community. She wants that to change.

“I’m going after Phoenix because they’re the largest municipal police department,” Hamby said.

In a statement, Sgt. Vince Lewis, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said the department has an opioid antagonist program that is limited to specialized divisions, including drug enforcement, K-9, bomb squad, transit and airport bureaus.

“Future expansions of the program may include use on the community. Training for every first responding patrol officer could take time, as it is our understanding that the course is three hours,” the statement said.

Hamby began contacting Phoenix police last month about carrying the drug. Since then, the department has requested 1,800 Narcan kits and training from the Arizona Department of Health Services, but it’s not clear when any program might start.

Judith Ochieng, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said Narcan is lifesaving and safe for police to carry.

“They’re usually the first responders, and being the first responders it’s important to have something they can do for those people when they find them laying there,” Ochieng said.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents the city’s police officers, does not have any hesitations about officers carrying Narcan or administering it, according to association president Britt London. Even though they are aren’t medics, police officers will perform life-saving measures until Fire Department personnel arrive.

Lewis said that Phoenix police will continue to partner with Phoenix fire on suspected overdoses and may perform other essential steps, like CPR, until Narcan is made available.

Cronkite News producer Emily Garcia contributed to this story.

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