WCSO program aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office has implemented a program designed to help reduce opioid overdose deaths in Nevada providing overdose education and naloxone kits to selected inmates as they are released.

Graphic courtesy WCSO

This program is supported by the Nevada State Opioid Targeted Response Grant.

In May 2017, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Public and Behavioral Health received a federal grant, known as the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant, from the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. The purpose of the grant is to expand access to treatment for people with opioid use disorder and to reduce opioid overdose-related deaths through prevention and recovery services.

One of the primary goals of the grant funding is to reduce opioid overdose deaths by ensuring people have access to naloxone, which is an opioid overdose reversal medication.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office decided the way to go is to provide the naloxone kits and training to inmates determined to be potentially at-risk. This program also supports the Sheriff’s Office goal to "reduce recidivism and increase public safety by attempting to treat some of the core causes of crime in our community."

“With this program we have an opportunity to help save lives along with the potential for reducing crime,” Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam says. “Our goal is to continue to look for medically-assisted treatments for the root causes of crime – mental health and drug abuse.”

“We also know that recently-released inmates are often at the highest danger of becoming the victim of an overdose. We want to do all we can to reduce that danger,” Sheriff Balaam says.

WCSO says studies indicate people who have been incarcerated and have a history of using opioid drugs, such as heroin, have a much higher rate of opioid overdoses than the general population. This and other data have been used to build interest within the criminal justice community to address the opioid crisis through treatment and overdose prevention instead of solely through incarceration.

Dr. Stephanie Woodard, DHHS Senior Advisor on Behavioral Health for the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, says the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office has taken an “innovative approach to improving public safety that can and will have a positive impact in Washoe County by increasing access to naloxone.”

“Research has shown that overdose education and naloxone distribution can save lives,” Dr. Woodard says. “The staff at the Washoe County Detention Center have stepped up to ensure inmates who may be at risk from overdose when they re-enter the community have access to naloxone as they are discharged. They should be applauded for taking steps to improve the health and wellbeing of inmates and our community.”

According to statistics provided by the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, 401 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017 and the number of overdose deaths from heroin has increased from 19 in 2010 to 92 in 2017.

In addition to the Detention Facility program, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office initiated an Overdose Prevention Program for its patrol deputies in November 2017. Supported by a grant from the National Sheriff’s Association, patrol deputies are equipped with Naloxone Hydrochloride (Narcan nasal spray) kits and were provided training in their use. Washoe County Sheriff’s Office says deputies have already used Narcan as a life-saving measure twice since the program was introduced.