Seattle bicycle police are adding a new weapon to their arsenal, but this is one that’s aimed at saving lives.
Along with their firearms, badges and other more traditional tools of the trade, bicycle police in Seattle will add a pharmaceutical to their armory to combat heroin overdoses.
The newest addition will help officers rescue people in dire distress, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said.
“Our goal is to save lives,” O’Toole said at a news conference at the department’s West Precinct on Tuesday to announce an initiative to train and equip bicycle officers in the North, East and West precincts with doses of the drug Nasal Naloxone, also known as Narcan.
Narcan, a nasal inhalant, works by blocking the body’s opiate receptors, and can reverse the physical affects of a heroin or pharmaceutical opioid overdose within minutes, according to SPD.
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“It literally snatches them back from the brink of death,” said Penny LeGate, whose The Marah Projectis providing funding for the drugs. She started the project after her 19-year-old daughter died of a heroin overdose in 2012.
For six months, bicycles officers will carry and administer the drug to those suspected of suffering an opioid or heroin overdose.
The department aims to grow the program and eventually have more officers carrying the drug, according to O’Toole.
While the use of Narcan by police and other first responders is not new, Seattle police will be the first law-enforcement agency in the nation to collaborate in a scientific study on the use of the drug.
Information provided by the bicycle cops about the use of Narcan will be collected and studied by researchers at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, according to Caleb Banta-Green, a senior researcher at the institute and a member of the King County Heroin Task Force.
The information will be used to evaluate the impact of police officers carrying naloxone on the health of overdose victims.
According to police and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids and heroin are among the leading causes of accidental death, surpassing even motor- vehicle accidents.
In the Seattle area alone, heroin deaths spiked by 58 percent in 2014 and are continuing to climb, according to the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. Over the past year, O’Toole said, officers have responded to an average of 100 overdose-related calls each month.
Officers underwent a two-hour session on how to recognize the signs of opioid overdose — labored, distressed or absent breathing, blue lips and constricted pupils — as well as how to use the Narcan.
The drug has no ill effects on people who are not on heroin or opioids, SPD’s Safety Officer Steve Redmond told the bicycle officers during training.
And police will still have to call medics and wait for them to arrive when they suspect a heroin overdose.
LeGate, a former KIRO-TV anchor, said that her daughter, who would have been 23 on Tuesday, would have been proud.
“The Marah Project is giving the gift of life to the Seattle community to be carried in the hands of these men and women,” she said.