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600 lives saved, overdoses reversed through partnership with law enforcement agencies

Naloxone rescue kits such as this one are publicly available in Utah and can be used to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by injecting the medicine into the victim.

Naloxone rescue kits such as this one are publicly available in Utah and can be used to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by injecting the medicine into the victim. (Jennifer Plumb, Utah Naloxone)


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SALT LAKE CITY — There are 600 people in Utah alive today because of a partnership and a special medicine.

Six hundred overdoses have been reversed because a law enforcement officer administered naloxone, a medicine that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Sgt. Mark Wian said the Salt Lake City police department was one of the first agencies to equip its officers with naloxone nasal spray starting in 2016. Because police officers are often the first responders on scene, Wian said the police department decided to train officers in identifying situations where naloxone could be used and how to administer it to potentially save someone's life.

"Our role as police officers is to protect and serve the community and that can be in any aspect," Wian said. "We have the training to arrive and make that initial assessment where we believe (naloxone) might help a person experiencing an overdose come to. And it's a great benefit to the community to potentially save someone's life."

Salt Lake police are one of more than 75 law enforcement agencies that have partnered with Utah Naloxone, a nonprofit organization working to raise awareness and increase access to naloxone, a life-saving medicine that reverses an opioid overdose.

Jennifer Plumb and her brother founded Utah Naloxone in 2015 as a way to try and help Utah deal with its opioid crisis as the state ranked fourth in the nation for overdose deaths in 2014.

Since the program's inception almost eight years ago, there have been almost 9,000 overdose reversals in total, with 600 directly from law enforcement partnerships.

About 20 years before starting the program, the Plumbs lost their brother to a heroin overdose. In the 1990s, addiction wasn't talked about as much, Plumb said, and she wanted to find a way to make peace from the pain of losing her brother.

As conversations about substance abuse grew in society over the years and naloxone laws got put into place in states, Plumb felt like there was still more that needed to be done in programming to help solve the addiction crisis.

So she and her brother started Utah Naloxone to increase education, help those dealing with substance abuse and to try to decrease the stigmatization around addiction.

"There's been a whole lot of learning curves," Plumb said about introducing naloxone to people and bringing addiction conversations into spaces that didn't typically have them.

Plumb at first didn't expect the partnership with law enforcement to go so well but she calls it a "tremendous development." She wasn't sure how police officers would react to her coming in and teaching them a medical process but she was amazed at their willingness to learn something outside their comfort zone and how much they wanted to be part of preventing deaths from overdoses.

In certain areas, emergency medical services can take longer to get to a scene than police officers, which is why partnering with law enforcement has had such a positive impact because they are the often first responders to situations and can help the people at risk the most, Plumb said.

"Law enforcement is a space that doesn't always look to folks to be like an open book," Plumb said. But her experience with them has shown that law enforcement officer sees value in providing this medical tool and being trained on something they might not be comfortable with.

Looking at the war on drugs, Plumb said you don't really correlate cops with helping someone who has drugs, but now many of them are wanting to help. "For these folks to say there's gotta be a different path ... and we want to be a part of the change in the way people are viewed and celebrate people making positive steps and not have it all be about the negatives," she said.

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Each agency Utah Naloxone partners with has its own naloxone policies, whether they decide to just have naloxone kits at the office, leave kits with people on the scene, train its officers to be able to administer naloxone, or just be connected with Utah Naloxone for medical direction.

Naloxone can be administered in several ways. The "gold standard" method, as Plumb called it, is injecting the medicine into the victim's arm, thigh or butt with a syringe needle. Plumb said it's the most cost-effective method and can be found in naloxone kits that are publicly available statewide.

According to a news release from Utah Naloxone, "anywhere there are opioids (pain pills, heroin, fentanyl), there should be naloxone." Anyone in Utah can legally possess naloxone and administer it to someone who is overdosing.

The majority of law enforcement partners use a nasal device that releases the medicine through a spray.

"We have just really built every sort of connection that we can with the hope that we can get not only naloxone into people's hands ... but get a change in the way folks view people who are struggling with substance abuse disorder. People who are not always seen as the ones worthy of empathy and care and compassion," Plumb said.

From lawmakers, to law enforcers, to family members, to medical personnel, to those who use drugs, Plumb said it is important to find overlap and connect in spaces so everyone can work together to fight addiction.


When they're gone, you don't get them back. Keep them here. Do everything you can to keep them here and help them on that path.

–Jennifer Plumb, Utah Naloxone


"It is pretty humbling to look back. You get so worked up in the day-to-day," Plumb said. "And when I take those reflection moments and look back, I truly feel so honored to have been allowed to work with so many great folks. To have had so many people in this state step up and say 'How can I be part of the solution?'"

For those struggling or have people close to them struggling with substance abuse, Plumb said "there is no shame in being sick." People can't get better if they are dead, and instead the focus should be on keeping everyone here so they can get on the path to a healthier place, she said.

After more than 25 years without her brother, Plumb still misses him and always has a picture of him on her desk. Although she can't get him back, she is proud that Utah Naloxone is helping save others.

"When they're gone, you know, you don't get them back. Keep them here. Do everything you can to keep them here and help them on that path," Plumb said.

Plumb was recently elected to the Utah State Senate for District 9 and will serve as the minority assistant whip for the 65th Utah Legislature.

Visit http://www.utahnaloxone.org/ for more information on addiction resources, signs of a drug overdose and information on how to obtain naloxone.

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Cassidy Wixom covers Utah County communities and is the evening breaking news reporter for KSL.com.

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