SPOKANE, Wash. – Growing abuse of heroin and prescription pain killers is increasing drug overdose calls for law enforcement. Fifty-thousand Americans died from drug overdoses last year, making it the highest number ever. To combat the problem, Spokane Police Officers are now carrying Narcan, a life-saving drug that can reverse an overdose.
Narcan is a nasal spray that can revive someone who has overdosed on opioids. The Spokane SWAT Team has been carrying it for two years, but used it for the first time Tuesday night. An officer’s body camera captured video of the incident.
The body camera video shows a man now identified as David Lappin, a 15-time convicted felon, unresponsive on the ground. In the video you can hear one officer say he saw Lappin drop a pill in a soda and drink it. Believing Lappin has overdosed, another officer sprays Narcan into Lappin’s nostrils.
Although in the video, Lappin does not open his eyes, within minutes officers can tell the dose worked. Lappin becomes responsive and his vital signs improve.
He was taken to the hospital, then later booked into the Spokane County Jail. Lappin appeared in court Wednesday, facing several charges including possession of a controlled substance.
Narcan is not new to Spokane. The Spokane Fire Department has carried it for decades and has used it too many times to count. However, it is relatively new to the Spokane Police Department. By the end of July, the Spokane Police Department hopes to have every officer on the force carrying it.
"This is a critical piece of our equipment that we deploy,” explained Spokane Police Sergeant Jay Kernkamp. “It is just as important as everything else that we carry on our tool belt."
Narcan is a tool that can save a person’s life if they overdose, but it is also a tool that brings up safety concerns.
“There are some risks involved on our behalf and sometimes we just cannot determine the end result,” Kernkamp said.
Nationwide, and even here in Spokane when the fire department has used Narcan, there have been cases where the person revived becomes combative. Some people wake up angry and try to fight officers. It is for that reason, a sheriff in Ohio said his deputies will not carry it.
"It is unsafe and you have to be careful because they are trying to hide the drugs and trying to get rid of the drugs and you are the police, and you are down on your knees, and your job is not to go there and die,” said Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.
Spokane Police are aware of the concerns, but said any chance to save a life is worth the risk.
"Anytime we can save a life within the community, whether it be our own or somebody we come into contact with or a child in a school, it is worth it no matter what,” Kernkamp said.
If you are wondering why Sgt. Kernkamp would bring up children and Narcan in the same sentence, it is because it could also be used to save a child who accidentally gets into a pill bottle.
"In this day and age with the opioid epidemic and overdoses becoming more and more common, this is not only just for the chronic drug users, but it is also for our friends and family members who are suffering, as well as, infants and children that may get into open containers or bottles that we do not plan on happening,” Kernkamp explained.
Ten years ago, police said they would respond to calls for unconscious people behind the steering wheel because of alcohol abuse. Today, officers said it is more common to see those calls because of a drug overdose.
"Now, we are seeing that same call,” Kernkamp said. “However, we are starting to identify that it is an overdose, with seeing either a syringe stuck in the arm or drug paraphernalia on the chest, so the tide is kind of shifting a little bit toward that response."
Spokane Police said cost is an issue when it comes to supplying every officer with Narcan. Each dose costs about $35. It does expire if it is not used within a certain amount of time. Spokane Police are working to get a grant to cover the cost.
KREM 2 also asked what would happen if an officer thinks someone is overdosing, but they are not. Spokane Police said Narcan will not cause any harm to someone without opioids in their system.