CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Narcan is considered a life-saving drug in the ongoing opioid epidemic, but if law enforcement agencies in South Carolina are not reporting when they use it, the medication may not be on hand when it’s needed to bring an overdose victim back from the brink of death.
Data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control revealed the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office had not been upholding the requirements that keep deputies stocked with the drug that’s been credited with saving so many lives.
In many cases, it’s a Charleston County deputy who is the first to an overdose call.
“I ran lights and sirens to get there,” Deputy Leonard Thompson said.
He recalled the first time he had to use Narcan on a victim.
“She was incoherent, eyes going back in her head,” Leonard said. “I could see she was definitely in need of the Narcan. She was laid back on the couch, so that’s when I knew it was the real thing.”
Leonard said it took two doses of Narcan to revive the woman.
“It's kind of like coming back from the dead like, you know, a quick burst of light,” Leonard described.
He’s one of 269 Charleston County deputies trained to use Narcan, and they’ve been carrying the drug to every call for almost two years.
“It’s such an impact on our daily duties, and it’s things that we’re running across, increasingly,” Charleston County Sheriff’s Capt. Roger Antonio said. “This year, for example, from January to July, we’ve had 13, and it’s not slowing down. And we realized that if there is a way to save somebody’s life, which you know, that’s 13 lives just the first half of this summer, this year that we have saved, you know, that’s just something that’s absolutely you have to have it as an agency.”
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is a part of DHEC’s Law Enforcement Officer Naloxone program, known also as the LEON program.
A grant pays for and supplies deputies with prescriptions for Narcan nasal sprays. They are easy to use, but there's only one dose per package.
”The numbers are increasing across the board between EMS, law enforcement and fire department,” said Richard Naugler, a LEON program trainer. “It could be that we have more officers trained, there's more Narcan out there, but the trend seems to be that the exposures and the overdoses are increasing."
However, to keep Narcan in the hands of first responders, DHEC needs to know when the drug is used, so it can be replaced.
LEON program data showed Charleston County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t always reporting their numbers right away, something DHEC officials called concerning.
“When we teach, we have the officers and we assure them that they need to report into the portal because they can not get a replacement,” Naugler said. “Also, the information that we need comes from that portal to see where the overdoses are occurring to see if there's a trend going on.”
In 2017, the deadliest year so far for opioid overdoses in Charleston County, the sheriff’s office was not yet a part of the LEON program.
Then in 2018, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office reported 7 Narcan administrations, a number far below the 80 Greenville County Sherriff’s Office reported, another area dealing with a high number of opioid deaths.
After Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was asked about the data, officials said deputies had responded to 18 incidents, more than double the number of Narcan administrations that were being reported to DHEC last year.
“We know we're deploying it, and we want to make sure that you know, the state, who's in charge of prescribing this, we want to make sure they have an accurate representation of what we're administering,” Antonio said.
He said questions asked during this investigation revealed CCSO had a delay in getting accurate numbers to DHEC’s database.
“With your inquiry, we realized that we need to make sure that they are getting the correct numbers from us,” Antonio said. “There was a delay in getting our numbers from our reports, so to sort of streamline that…we've designated an admin [administrative] assistant here at the sheriff's office, and that's going to be one of her duties is to make sure that gets done.”
LEON program officials maintain Narcan is simply a rescue tool, not a solution to the opioid epidemic that has touched every corner of the state.
“We need to continue the emphasis that we're doing with the other programs…that we work on the rehabilitation, the treatment, and the law enforcement aspect of stopping these products from coming into South Carolina,” Naugler said.
For now, deputies, like Thompson, feel grateful to have the training and ability to use Narcan.
“If we can administer it, and you know, eliminate the amount of time that’s building up, you know, the quicker the better, so I’m ecstatic to have it,” Thompson said.