By Kris Jepson
Exclusive: Durham Police custody officers are the first in the country to receive pioneering training to administer a life-saving drug to people who have overdosed when detained.
Currently Naloxone is administered to people who have had opiate based drugs overdoses by independent healthcare officials who are called into police stations when needed.
If nobody is available, the custody officers often have to wait for the emergency services to respond.
The training introduced by Durham Constabulary means that all custody officers will be equipped to confidently administer the life-saving drug immediately if a detainee overdoses, which will increase the chances of that person surviving.
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Inspector Jason Meecham is in charge of custody management for Durham Police.
He says in the last two years the force has seen 20 opiate connected overdoses in custody suites that would have been fatal had Naloxone not been used and that is why his officers are being trained.
He told ITV News that detainees often overdose before they have been apprehended, meaning this training is essential for saving lives.
This is an opportunity for my staff to save somebody’s life. There’s a couple of minutes where it’s critical. A person’s overdosed, we can’t get the ambulance crew to us quickly enough or our own healthcare professionals aren’t in the building at the time. We’re in the position now with fully trained staff to be able to administer Naloxone, be fully trained, we’ve got the defibs on site, and now we’ve got that additional skillset to give them a really simple piece of medication that’s proven to work, effective and easy to administer and to save somebody’s life in a split second.
Naloxone is administered by injection into the thigh. It blocks and reverses the effects of opioids, instantly preventing death if used within a short period following an opioid overdose.
It can be administered as many times as needed and keeps the user alive long enough for the emergency services to respond.
The officers who come into regular contact with drug users and who have received the training told ITV News the drug is easy to use and a valuable skill for them to have when dealing with vulnerable people who have abused drugs.
One officer said “I think if I came across somebody who was in a cell who’d taken a drugs overdose, after today’s training, yes I would feel very confident in administering the drug”.
Another said “We’ve had the training, so we’ve got the confidence now to put the kit together and then inject it into the muscle so that you can hopefully save a life”.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 3.482 drug poisoning deaths in England. The North East recorded 289 drug poisoning deaths. This accounted for the highest rate of drug poisoning deaths in 2017 in England and Wales.
Of the drug poisoning deaths recorded in England that year, more than 1,800 were opiate connected deaths.
1,829 opiate connected deaths in England in 2017
205 in the ITV Tyne Tees region, including:
69 in Teesside (combining Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton)
63 in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear
41 in North Yorkshire (combining York and North Yorkshire)
32 in County Durham
Source: Office for National Statistics
George Charlton’s relationship with opioid drugs 18 years ago was chaotic. He often overdosed and said he feels lucky to be alive.
I had a habit of taking opiate based medications and drinking on top of that. At its worst it was probably for seven or eight years you know? I was a poly-drug user, using anything I could get my hands on really. I wouldn’t define myself as a heroin addict, but I certainly had an issue with opiates. My life was being saved in hospitals… I found myself on a number of occasions waking up in hospitals after being taken down in an ambulance, you know, and knowing nothing about it other than I got there and they said you’ve had an overdose and we’ve had to bring you around, you know… but certainly I was extremely lucky in many ways.
George has used his experience two decades ago to drive him in helping vulnerable people who are abusing drugs.
He delivers training to professionals, like prison staff, to educate them about the importance of Naloxone and how it can save lives. He campaigns for greater access across society to Naloxone.