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The role of police officers in responding to overdoses is often unclear, according to a new study. Researchers say training officers in administering the overdose antidote naloxone could have a significant impact on the death rate from drug-related fatalities.

The study found that while police officers often serve as medical first responders, it is often unclear what police can or should do at the scene of an overdose, PsychCentral.com reports.

The researchers interviewed 13 law enforcement officials in Connecticut and Rhode Island communities experiencing high rates of drug overdoses. They found officials were supportive of being involved in overdose prevention, but they expressed hesitancy about laypersons administering naloxone. Officers said they were frustrated with their current overdose response options, the lack of accessible drug treatment, the cycle of addiction and the pervasiveness of easily accessible prescription opioid medications in their communities.

They said they viewed overdose prevention and response, which for some officers included law enforcement-administered naloxone, as components of community policing and good police-community relations.

“Police officers are often limited by available resources or protocol when it comes to responding to overdose,” lead researcher Traci C. Green, PhD of Rhode Island Hospital said in a news release. “While some expressed negative attitudes toward people who use drugs, others were empathetic and simply frustrated with the lack of drug treatment, the cycle of addiction, and the ease with which people can access drugs in their communities.”

The study appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Massachusetts officials recently reported that naloxone has stopped 2,000 overdoses in the state in the last six years. Naloxone, also called Narcan, is a nasal spray. Naloxone kits are distributed in 15 communities in Massachusetts for free to people who use opioids, and to their family and friends. The Narcan program also offers education and referrals for addiction treatment.


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