Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, River Phoenix: This is just a handful of famous names of people who died over the past 50 years from some form of opioid abuse.

For every celebrity, though, who dies from abusing opioids, tens of thousands of people whose names are known only to family and friends die the same terrible death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says 70,237 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2017 in the U.S. The CDC attributes about 47,600 of those deaths to opioid overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s numbers confirm the CDC’s findings. The NIDA says that 130 people die each day from opioid overdose.

The problem exists locally, as well. The Goldsboro Police Department reports that last year officers rolled on 92 overdose cases. And this year, the department is on track to do the same. 

Police made no mention if any of these cases led to death. But when Goldsboro police announced recently it outfitted officers with Narcan, it was if people could hear a collective sigh of relief across the city. Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of an overdose of opioids. Police will save lives carrying Narcan. 

The officers, when the time comes — facing an opioid overdose — will use a nasal spray from a Narcan kit to reverse some or all of the effects of the OD. The nasal spray comes in a device with a plunger. With overdose victims lying on their backs, police place a device in a nostril, and the plunger is used to administer the drug. Repeat doses may be necessary. NIDA says the drug is safe and effective.

At the top, we mentioned the names of dead celebrities spanning 50 years. The reason is that naloxone was approved as early as 1971 in the U.S. for use with opioid overdoses. But the widespread need for naloxone seemed to grow as the abuse of opioids flourished. Some numbers from NIDA show what the nation is facing:

• Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

• Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.

• An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.

• About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

• Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 45 states.

In 2017, the federal government declared opioid abuse to be a national epidemic.

Despite all of this, in some areas of the country, law enforcement’s use of Narcan remains controversial.

Narcan saves lives. No one disputes that. But some law enforcement agencies across the country choose not to outfit their officers with naloxone for a variety of reasons. 

For instance, in a limited number of reported cases, people who have OD’d and were brought back with Narcan have become violent with police or firefighters who administered the antidote.

Other reports cite police chiefs and sheriffs saying that outfitting all their officers with a rescue kit is cost prohibitive. Also, some complain that the cost of training officers to use Narcan and providing continuing education is too expensive. Statewide, North Carolina agencies pay as low as $50 for the nasal spray applications and could put out as much as $4,000 for two doses of Narcan through an auto-injector. However, in many areas, such as in Goldsboro, county or local health departments provide the Narcan kits and training to police. With the price of each kit running from $70 to $140, Goldsboro police Chief Mike West is adding the purchase of Narcan kits to his budget in case outside money runs out. The News-Argus’ Sierra Henry reported that on Monday along with that all 96 officers completed training in Narcan use.

In 2015, North Carolina hit a milestone when more lives were saved with naloxone than were lost to overdose. The job of first responders, especially police, is to protect and serve the people on their patrols. That means proactively preventing crime from happening, being on the spot to make arrests when laws are broken and to save people in life or death situations. Overdosing on opioids is becoming more common. Since police officers many times are first on the scene to protect the public, it just makes sense officers have all the tools necessary to do their jobs. And that includes the lifesaving antidote Narcan.

Contact Duke Conover, Goldsboro News-Argus editor, at dconover@newsargus.com or 919-739-7840.