Drug overdoses to fall under revised protective custody law 

For the Gazette
Published: 7/23/2016 3:53:15 AM

Local police, often the first on scene when a person begins to overdose on drugs, will soon have a new tool to help make sure victims who survive get to an emergency facility or treatment center as quickly as possible.

The state Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker are backing a change in state law that would allow police to begin taking people who survive overdoses into protective custody — a form of detainment designed to protect a person from harming themselves.

The change, which was added as a rider to the state budget, would require police who do so to take the person to a hospital or other medical facility for treatment. Police could use reasonable force, but the person detained would not be considered under arrest.

Until now, police have only been allowed to take people who have been incapacitated by alcohol into protective custody. The drug overdose portion of the law would be different in requiring transportation to a medical facility — the alcohol provisions allow detainees to be held at the police station or brought home. That specificity was added to the bill by Baker.

Local police say the change will be particularly welcome in situations where they administer naloxone, the life-saving overdose reversal medication sold under the brand name Narcan, to a victim.

Montague Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge said Narcan can wear off and send the victim back into overdose, and it often takes more than one dose to ensure that does not happen.

“The problem we have now without such a law is that when someone overdoses and we give them Narcan, they return to a somewhat sober state briefly,” Dodge said. “During that time, they can make the decision to refuse transport and treatment. We know that’s only for a limited amount of time, and then they’ll return to the (overdose) state. It happens all the time.”

Dodge said his officers’ only option at that point is to wait to administer another dose of Narcan.

“What this will do is to give us the right to say ‘No, you need to go receive further treatment,’” Dodge said of the change. “Though it places more responsibility and maybe some liability on our officers, I think it’s worth in the end for the lives saved.”

Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr. serves as the Franklin County representative to the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association Executive Board that has been pushing for the change. He agrees with Dodge.

“Narcan is often administered, the person feels better, and then walks out against medical advice from the hospital. Some will decline transport by EMS on scene,” Paciorek said. “This leaves us in an awful situation as there is nothing we can do. After the Narcan wears off ,the individual could go right back into an overdose. This gives us a tool that we currently don’t have.”

Narcan has been used to save an estimated 12,982 people from opioid-related overdoses in 2015 by first responders, according to the state health department. In nearly 3,000 of those cases, the drug had to be used more than once.

Dodge said the changes come at nearly the same time as the new Franklin Recovery Center opened on Federal Street in Greenfield. That, he said, will ensure the region is more prepared to handle the possible influx of victims that can now be placed in protective custody under the new law.

“The hospital is not equipped and you don’t have the options in an emergency room that you have at a treatment facility,” Dodge said. “They can treat the symptoms but as soon as they’re clear they have to release them, no follow up. That’s what we need, and the new treatment center will be there for that.”


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