Norcross police receive donation of lifesaving overdose drug

Police Chief Bill Grogan holds up a box of Narcan at Norcross City Hall on Friday, June 18, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Police Chief Bill Grogan holds up a box of Narcan at Norcross City Hall on Friday, June 18, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

As opioid overdoses rise in metro Atlanta, Norcross police officers now have access to a lifesaving prescription drug that saves lives.

The nonprofit Gwinnett United in Drug Education Inc. and the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments are collecting donations to provide law enforcement with naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan.

The organizations announced at a Friday press conference that Norcross Police Department received 96 doses of naloxone worth $3,300. Officers had zero doses prior to the donation.

GUIDE Inc. and GNR Health hope to raise at least $10,000, which will be used to purchase and distribute naloxone doses to police departments across Gwinnett County, said Michael Davis, associate executive director of the nonprofit.

Health experts have noticed an increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in recent years, Davis said. The Gwinnett County Police Department told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month that officers were responding to three to four overdose calls per week.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s used as a strong pain reliever, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The highly addictive drug can be used as cheap filler with other drugs.

Pure fentanyl can be pressed into a pill form and disguised to look like prescription medicine, leading buyers to believe what they’re taking is safe. Clara Butler, a Lawrenceville teenager, died from an overdose in April after taking a pill she thought was Percocet.

As of April 28, 44 people in Gwinnett County had died from an overdose this year, according to a medical examiner’s report. Last year, 111 people died from an overdose.

Overdoses may be underreported, Davis said, as they’re hard to count. The medical examiner can only say an overdose caused someone’s death if the drug is found in their system. Also, reports from medical examiner’s office only account for people who did not survive an overdose, he said.

Dr. Audrey Arona, district health director of the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments, speaks at a press conference at Norcross City Hall on Friday, June 18, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Dr. Audrey Arona, district health director of the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments, speaks at a press conference at Norcross City Hall on Friday, June 18, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Two people in Gwinnett County have died from overdoses since the start of June, said Audrey Arona, district health director of GNR Health, at the press conference. Officers and other responders have revived 23 people who overdosed with the help of naloxone and other measures, she said.

“The idea is to flood our community with Narcan, so that we can report overdoses that are reversed and not deaths,” Arona said.

Naloxone works by reversing the side effects of an overdose until a victim can receive further treatment. It’s administered as a nasal spray, similar to allergy medicines. The number of naloxone bottles given to Norcross officers can revive 50-100 people, depending on whether someone experiencing an overdose needs one or two sprays.

Many police departments don’t have naloxone due to budgetary restraints, Davis said. A single bottle costs about $75 and can revive one or two people, he said.

While EMTs and firefighters are readily available to help overdose victims, Norcross Police Chief Bill Grogan said he feels more comfortable now that his officers can carry naloxone to help someone experiencing symptoms.

The Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia donated $5,000 to the fundraiser, with the organizations promising to match it. GUIDE Inc. and GNR Health have since raised about $1,000 since the initial donation. People can donate at www.guideinc.org/donate.