Baltimore County police officers will begin carrying naloxone this year to combat an increase in heroin use, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced Monday.
Over the next six months, all county police officers will be trained in how to administer naloxone , a drug that counteracts an opioid overdose. Also known by the brand name Narcan, naloxone is administered through the nose.
Locally and nationally, heroin use has increased nearly 300 percent since 2002, according to the county.
"Families and communities have been facing these challenges for years, and government has a role to help individuals get the help that they need," Kamenetz said.
Law enforcement officers in Anne Arundel, Howard, Hartford and Carroll counties and Baltimore City already have been trained in using naloxone.
The second tool the country announced is a hotline, 410-88-REACH, which families, friends and substance users can call from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays to connect with resources for recovery. The lines will be staffed by clinical social workers with special training in substance abuse issues.
Fire Chief John Hohman spoke at announcement, held in Towson, saying paramedics have carried naloxone for 30 years.
"It truly is a miracle drug," Hohman said. "It takes someone from near death to consciousness in a matter of seconds."
The drug works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain.
Providing naloxone to county police officers will cost about $28,000 every two years, according to the county. The drug has a two-year shelf life. A single dose costs $40.
From 2010 to 2015, Baltimore County police handled more than 1,500 overdose calls for service, Police Chief Jim Johnson said.
"There's no doubt that the decision reached to have Narcan available in the police units will help save lives," Johnson said.
The product will be available to officers over the next two or three months, he added. Training has already started.
During the announcement Kamenetz referenced the struggle of Toni Torsch, of Perry Hall, who helped her son for seven years as he fought addiction. Her son, Daniel Torsch, died of a heroin overdose at age 24.
Torsch wears a pin on her jacket with her son's birthday and date of death, Dec. 3, 2010, written in white letters in front of a photo of her son standing on the beach.
Kamenetz also discussed the struggle of Dottie and Tom Roach, of Towson, during his announcement. The Roaches' son, Cory, was addicted but has been sober for five years.
"Tom once described their struggles this way: He said, 'Imagine that you are standing on the beach in Ocean City and you see your son drowning beyond the waves. You keep trying to reach him, but you're never able to get to him, because your feet are stuck in the sand. As your son goes under and under and under again."
That's what it is like every day when your child is addicted to drugs, Kamenetz said.
Dr. Gregory Branch, director of the county Department of Health and Human Services, said the county provides free two-hour training on how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone. Since June 2013, that program has trained more than 700 people in the county, he said.