Narcan debate continues in Rangely, as Fountain and others save lives with overdose antidote drug

Author: Joey Bunch - May 2, 2017 - Updated: July 31, 2017

The debate over the life-saving drug called Narcan continues in Rio Blanco County, but the issue is largely settled elsewhere.

Cops, health-care advocates and lawmakers seem to agree that Narcan — the brand name for naxolene — can mean the difference between life and death for a drug overdose victim. Colorado lawmakers in 2013 even granted immunity to everyday citizens who administer the drug. Last month New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez signed into law a requirement that state and local law-enforcement officers carry it. The bill passed the legislature unanimously.

Rangely police offer tough love instead of antidote for drug overdose

In January Colorado Politics shared the Rio Blanco Herald Times’ news that Rangely Police Chief Vince Wilczek won’t keep the stuff in stock, because helping out overdose victims doesn’t do them any good, in the big picture.

Sunday the paper’s Jennifer Hill reported that Rangely city attorney Dan Wilson weighed in with a letter provided to city leaders.

“No upside for our officers to be involved, and big potential for big downsides if a drug user dies or is permanently rendered brainless, a technical term,” he wrote, according to the Herald Times.

The local hospital district said it sees an average of 3.5 opiod overdose victims a year, and the police said Narcan costs $75 a dose and has to be kept at room temperature.

Hill reports this is how the gears of government turned on the issue last week:

Chief Wilczek expressed concerns that there is no clear definition of “good faith,” and Mayor Joseph Nielsen was worried that the town could be liable for police use of Narcan and was uncomfortable with the coverage provided by the state statute. Council member Andy Key suggested that the town educate the public on the role of Narcan and inform them that it can be obtained by anyone at the Rangely pharmacy.

Legal opinions and law enforcement practices clearly can differ.

Unrelated to the Rangely issue,  Fountain Police Lt. Jess Freeman issued updating the public on the departments use of Narcan Monday afternoon.

“In the event officers arrive on scene before medical personnel on a drug overdose, we believe officers should have the ability to immediately administer Narcan for the saving of one’s life no matter what the event which lead to the need of its use,” Freeman said in a statement.

Jennifer Brown of the Denver Post reported last week that the Harm Reduction Action Center in Denver saved 553 lives with  naloxone — better known by its brand name Narcan — since 2012.

And from April 2016 to March 2017, Denver Health Medical Center used it 998 times, Brown reported.

Freeman said the Fountain Police Department has used the drug several times since officers started carrying it last year, including Sunday when police were the first to arrive after a 9-1-1 call.

“Through the use of the Narcan by responding officers, the party slowly regained consciousness and was later alert and speaking with medical staff when they arrived on scene,” he said.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.