Naloxone, the active ingredient in NARCAN® Nasal Spray, reverses the effects of opioid overdose in 2 to 3 minutes.
The nasal spray Narcan is used to save the lives of people who overdose on opioids. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Soon every officer in the San Antonio Police Department will be trained to administer Narcan, the nasal spray version of Naloxone, a medication that can temporarily stop or reverse the effects of opioid overdose.

Trainings will begin on Sept. 11, and while mandatory for SAPD badged officers, sessions are open to any sworn law enforcement officer, including campus police and Bexar County sheriffs deputies.

Lisa Cleveland, professor at UT Health San Antonio and grant administrator, told the Rivard Report that training people throughout the community to administer Narcan is important because opioid overdoses have surpassed vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental injury or death in the United States.

Bexar County leads the state in babies born with drug withdrawal symptoms and has the third-highest per-capita rate of overdose deaths in Texas, with 108 fatal overdoses in 2015, County officials said.

According to a recent report compiled by the Joint Opioid Task Force, a City/County collaboration to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths in the greater San Antonio area, Bexar County first responders saved 1,869 lives in 2017 by administering Narcan.

Bexar County received two separate grants aimed at making opioid reversal drugs more widely available. The $3 million, four-year federal grant through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which was signed into law in July 2016 by President Barack Obama to expand access to drug addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs along with related reforms in criminal justice and law enforcement, is aimed at training first responders. A grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) allowed for the expansion of training opportunities as well as the purchase and distribution of Narcan.

Trainings for community members are forthcoming. Anyone who completes the training – both traditional and non-traditional first responders – will receive Narcan to use in emergency situations.

“Community members are important because oftentimes they are the first responders when someone overdoses,” Cleveland said. People who know someone who is struggling with substance abuse or addiction may go through the training and will receive Narcan to administer as needed, she said.

TJ Mayes, chief of staff for Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, said that despite funding procurement delays, the Joint Opioid Task Force moved quickly once funding was released, and is set to present to Commissioners Court on Sept. 30 a report regarding progress in training first responders. Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg requested the report in a July 2017 letter to the task force, in which they singled out first responder trainings as the immediate point of focus.

During a training session at UT Health San Antonio in May, officials distributed 3,000 doses of Narcan to individuals and organizations throughout San Antonio and trained 80 people on how to administer the drug. Each of those people is now certified to train others, Mayes said.

“Every dose of [Narcan] has the potential to save a life,” he said.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.