York County among Pa. officers honored for naloxone use in overdose cases

Katherine Ranzenberger

It was raining and dark out when the Penn Township police responded to a call for a heroin overdose.

A pregnant woman, 37 weeks along, was laying on the wet pavement when Patrolman Steve Gebhart Jr. and his partner, Michael Smith, arrived at the scene.

“She was blue and not breathing,” Gebhart said. “Her boyfriend said she had taken some heroin.”

Gebhart and Smith administered two rounds of Narcan, also known as naloxone. The officers had been trained to use the drug to reverse the effects of an overdose.

“She started coming around and talking again,” Gebhart said. “The ambulance took her to the hospital and got her the care she needed. It’s nice to see someone alive after that experience. We can be an intricate part of that.”

Gebhart, Smith and more than 100 other police were honored Tuesday, March 1, at the Capitol in Harrisburg. As of Jan. 31, York County officers have helped save 113 people with naloxone. February numbers are being released soon.

More than 600 people have been saved across Pennsylvania through naloxone use.

York County District Attorney Tom Kearney was at the event where four of the officers serving York County were honored.

“It’s stunning,” Kearney said. “This speaks to both our government and our officers for implementing it so quickly.”

All 23 departments across York County started carrying naloxone in kits at the beginning of April 2015. In the first eight months, 99 people were saved with the use of naloxone, Kearney said.

The York County Coroner Office confirmed Feb. 27 via Twitter that 65 deaths in York County were heroin-related. That’s three higher than the 2014 total.

“It’s a growing epidemic,” Kearney said. “We try to help the victims. The next step is to help those people get into treatment.”

Gary Tennis, Pennsylvania Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said the epidemic starts with the abuse of opioid medications prescribed by doctors across the country for chronic pain.

“We’re working hard with healthcare providers to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions,” Tennis said.

Deaths linked to misuse and abuse of prescription opioids climbed to 19,000 in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heroin and opioid painkillers caused 28,650 fatal overdoses in 2014, or 61 percent of all drug-related overdose deaths.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told the Associated Press that more Americans are “primed” for heroin use because of their exposure to painkillers.

Under new CDC prescription guidelines, doctors would prescribe these drugs only as a last choice for chronic pain, after non-opioid pain relievers, physical therapy and other options, according to the Associated Press.

The CDC also wants doctors to prescribe the smallest supply of the drugs possible, usually three days or less for acute pain. Doctors would only continue prescribing the drugs if patients show significant improvement.

York County Coroner Pam Gay said the guidelines are good ideas.

“It’s not trying to take (painkillers) away from people who really need it,” Gay said. “But we really have a problem in this country and must be more responsible about how we’re prescribing these drugs.”

Schools across York County and Pennsylvania have also been provided free naloxone kits through the district attorney’s office to help in case of an overdose. Each kit costs between $30 and $100.

For now, officers across York County will continue to use the overdose reversal drug to save lives.

“Before Narcan, a lot of times we’d get to the scene and not be able to do anything to help,” Gebhart said. “The relief of the family who’s there, that their loved one didn’t pass away, it makes it worth it.”