PICKENS COUNTY — Deputies with the Pickens County Sheriffs Office underwent a specialized training class on Friday on the opioid overdose reversal medication, commonly referred to as NARCAN.
The two-hour class is part of “Project LEON,” which stands for Law Enforcement Officers Naloxone. The class was introduced to the state a little over a year and a half ago, said Sgt. Jeff Ward of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.
Ward, who is also a paramedic with 40-plus years on the job, instructed the class to roughly 70 PCSO members, split between morning and afternoon classes.
“This class is in high demand statewide,” said PCSO Chief Deputy Creed Hashe. “The waiting list for this is no joke. We (Pickens County) were moved up the list because it’s a serious problem here.”
According to Ward, the drug was previously only available to certified paramedics. Following the passage of laws in 2015 safeguarding first responders from liability lawsuits involving the drug, NARCAN and other opioid reversals started making their way into the hands of cops and firefighters.
“You get asked it all the time — you may have even asked it yourself: Why are cops carrying NARCAN?” said Ward. “Simple reason: Because we’re faster.”
Average response times for emergency calls is significantly lower for law enforcement than any other branch of public rescue/health agency, he said.
“Think of it like CPR, you all had to take CPR classes,” said Ward. “This is no different, you’re saving a life — and minutes matter.”
Ward stated that if you look at the number of NARCAN uses per 100,000 people, Pickens County is second in the state.
“There are a couple of ways to track this,” he said. “The first being the death rate. In 2015, Pickens County had 27 deaths by opioid overdose.”
The second way, with yielded an even more frightening number, was by NARCAN usage, he said.
“This is not number of doses, this is per patient,” said Ward. “In 2015 Pickens County had emergency personal administer NARCAN to 243 people. In 2016, that number was 327.”
The vast majority of opioid users began with pain medication prescriptions due to an injury, he stated.
“In 2016 there were 5.2 million prescriptions written for opioids,” said Ward. “That may seem like a lot — it sure does to me — especially when you realize that South Carolina’s population is only 4.9 million. That means there are more ‘scripts written than there are men, women and children in the state.
“As you can see, it’s a problem. The bad part is it’s only getting worse.”