GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Gaston County leaders are taking a big step in the fight against the opioid epidemic and the fatal overdose increase.
A partnership between CaroMont Health, the Gaston County Sheriff's Office and Gaston Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) will help place doses of the opioid overdose-reversing drug Narcan in the hands of county law enforcement. CaroMont Health purchased and donated the first 500 dosages of Narcan and GEMS will provide the training for the officer.
Police and firefighters are often the first to arrive on scene when 911 is called, so it is vital they have the tools and training needed to begin treatment immediately.
"These calls are coming in now as, 'subject lying on the road, unconscious subject lying in a vehicle,'" said Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger. "Several months ago, I went on a call of a man lying in the driveway. I arrived on scene and it was someone in an overdose, he was lying there dying. There was not much we could do for him."
Up until now, most departments in the county have had to wait for Gaston Emergency Medical Services to arrive in order to deliver the life-saving drug.
"Law enforcement and EMS are first on the scene always. Time is critical. That one extra chance means a lot," said Doug Luckett, President and CEO of CaroMont Health.
Federal data shows that fatal drug overdoses have jumped about 75 percent since 2002. Gaston County has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose in North Carolina. In 2014, overdoses were blames for 34 deaths.
"It works very quickly, it is a narcotics antagonist," said Mark Lamphier, Director of GEMS.
GEMS has already used Narcan 311 times this year, which is about a 20 percent increase from last year. With more officers equipped, they expect that number to continue to go up.
"Making a difference in people's lives, giving them a second chance and maybe have them turn it around," said the sheriff.
More than 60 law enforcement agencies in North Carolina are now arming officers with Narcan.