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Editorial: Police are key in the opioid fight

It is indisputable these days that police today are asked to do too many things. They are not only law enforcers and peacekeepers but now mental health counselors and immigration enforcers.

Among all of that, though, they are first responders – on the scene early and trained to make a difference. For that reason, alone, it is crazy for any police department not to equip its officers with naloxone, the antidote that saves the lives of people overdosing on opioids. It is inexpensive – actually, free to police, at least for now – easy to administer and, routinely, the difference between life and death.

Yet, police in five Erie County communities are not armed with the drug. Now, Western New York mothers who know the pain of a child’s death are asking them to put the antidote in patrol cars. It’s not a lot to ask.

Erie County knows the benefit of this drug. With it as part of its approach to confronting the opioid crisis, Erie County has become a national leader in reducing the rate of opioid fatalities.

More was involved in producing that trend than the availability of naxolone, also known by the brand name Narcan. Clearly, though, the immediate prevention of overdose deaths counts as a key part of that hopeful effort. For that reason, it is not only unwise but unconscionable that police departments in some communities are left without ready access to it.

That’s the issue in the city and town of Tonawanda, West Seneca, Orchard Park and Lackawanna. In at least two of those places – Lackawanna and the City of Tonawanda – the thought is that because fire departments are equipped with naloxone, police don’t need to be.

But the flaw in the argument is that, sometimes, police will arrive first. Sometimes, they will happen upon an unfolding crisis. The goal must be to equip as many first responders as possible. In Buffalo, both the fire and police departments carry the drug. It’s sad to acknowledge, but if it’s not basic first aid right now, it’s the next thing to it.

Some police agencies are worried that what is free to them today will cost money down the road. That is certainly possible, and maybe likely. But, so what? Lives can be saved now at no cost and with little training. Police need to be in on this fight and, in the end, the excuses don’t hold up. In this fight, all hands need to be on deck.

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