By the time Waterford Police arrived shortly before 8:30 Sunday night on the scene of a heroin overdose, the man in his late 50s was, by most definitions, dead: unresponsive, not breathing and no pulse.
“The guy was gone when they got there,” Public Safety Commissioner John Tanchak said Monday.
With the Waterford Rescue Squad on another call, it fell to the responding police officers to administer naloxone, which has proved to be an effective antidote for opioid overdoses, especially heroin.
Officer Dan McGreevy gave the man, identified only as an out-of-state visitor to a South Street residence, a dose of the nasal spray, while Officer Michael Dilbone prepared to use an automated external defibrillator (AED).
With the man still unresponsive, McGreevy gave the man a second dose. The man bolted up.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
What happened is he became one of more than 200 to have been saved in New York state in the less than a year by law enforcement officials using naloxone, sometimes called Narcan, to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. For Waterford Police, which got trained in using the drug six months ago, it was the first time they utilized it in the field.
“They did a great job,” Tanchak said of the officers. “Narcan, naloxone, you can’t say enough about it.
“Without the naloxone they are carrying, he’s gone,” the commissioner continued. “There is no getting around it.”
The man was treated at an unspecified area hospital, police said.
More than 200 law enforcement agencies in New York, including more than a dozen in the Capital Region, are trained in using the drug to combat heroin overdoses. The number of departments getting trained is starting to spread; departments in 28 states now equip officers to deal with heroin overdoses.
Last April the state began its Community Overdose Program (COP) that provides funding to equip officers with naloxone, with money coming from criminal and civil forfeitures.
“By any measure, the COP program has been a resounding public-policy success,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a February statement. “We have transformed money seized from drug dealers into resources that are saving the lives of their victims.”
States have been dealing with a rise in heroin abuse in recent years. In 2013, there were nearly 20,000 hospitalizations — mostly emergency visits — related to heroin in New York State, according to the state. Fatal overdoses from heroin doubled from 2010-2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Michael Dailey, director of pre-hospital and operational medicine at Albany Medical Center and medical director for the Regional Emergency Management Organization in Albany, has been the point person training law enforcement organizations across New York and the country on how to use naloxone. He trained the Waterford Police Department.
“There are a number of things where law enforcement will make every difference in the world by providing care,” Dailey said, pointing to incidents of cardiac arrest, uncontrolled bleeding and heroin overdoses. “It sound like in this case they really save a life.”
Despite some reluctance, he said departments across the country are getting on board to seeing the advantages of having officers trained.
“Some other states have gained some speed,” Dailey said. “It is moving across the country.”
Tanchak said the Sunday night save shows the changing face of heroin, and the value of the naloxone law enforcement initiative.
“I don’t associate someone in their mid- to late-50s with heroin. Nowadays, today, is that is not out of the ordinary, because heroin is so prevalent,” Tanchak said. “This is the best program every instituted. But hopefully we will never have to use it again.”