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Police Officers’ and Paramedics’ Experiences with Overdose and Their Knowledge and Opinions of Washington State’s Drug Overdose–Naloxone–Good Samaritan Law

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Opioid overdoses are an important public health concern. Concerns about police involvement at overdose events may decrease calls to 911 for emergency medical care thereby increasing the chances than an overdose becomes fatal. To address this concern, Washington State passed a law that provides immunity from drug possession charges and facilitates the availability of take-home-naloxone (the opioid overdose antidote) to bystanders in 2010. To examine the knowledge and opinions regarding opioid overdoses and this new law, police (n = 251) and paramedics (n = 28) in Seattle, WA were surveyed. The majority of police (64 %) and paramedics (89 %) had been at an opioid overdose in the prior year. Few officers (16 %) or paramedics (7 %) were aware of the new law. While arrests at overdose scenes were rare, drugs or paraphernalia were confiscated at 25 % of the most recent overdoses police responded to. Three quarters of officers felt it was important they were at the scene of an overdose to protect medical personnel, and a minority, 34 %, indicated it was important they were present for the purpose of enforcing laws. Police opinions about the immunity and naloxone provisions of the law were split, and we present a summary of the reasons for their opinions. The results of this survey were utilized in public health efforts by the police department which developed a roll call training video shown to all patrol officers. Knowledge of the law was low, and opinions of it were mixed; however, police were concerned about the issue of opioid overdose and willing to implement agency-wide training.

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We would like to thank all of the police officers and paramedics who completed the surveys. We would also like to thank Dr. Michael Copass of the Seattle Fire Department Medic One program. Thanks also to Assistant Chief Mike Sanford and Captain Lester Liggins as well as the training department of the Seattle Police Department.

Funding for this evaluation was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research Program to Drs. Banta-Green and Kuszler.

Professor Beletsky is also supported by award number R37 DA019829 from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (S. Strathdee: PI). Opinions expressed are the authors’ own and do not reflect the view of the National Institutes of Health or the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

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Correspondence to Caleb J. Banta-Green.

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Banta-Green, C.J., Beletsky, L., Schoeppe, J.A. et al. Police Officers’ and Paramedics’ Experiences with Overdose and Their Knowledge and Opinions of Washington State’s Drug Overdose–Naloxone–Good Samaritan Law. J Urban Health 90, 1102–1111 (2013).

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