Advocates at the state and local level are working to get the lifesaving drug naloxone to first responders and citizens in Wilmington.
But the Wilmington Police Department is among a dwindling number of municipal law enforcement agencies not stocking the medication through a state-funded program.
The opioid overdose-reversing medication naloxone— or Narcan— has been available to police departments through Delaware’s Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) since 2014.
The office’s naloxone program is free to police departments.
According to the Division of Public Health, twenty county and municipal departments currently participate—along with Delaware State Police, the Department of Correction and several divisions of DNREC.
State Police just joined in 2017 and its officers have administered 41 doses.
As of June, public safety personnel such as firefighters, park rangers and lifeguards can also stock Narcan through the program. The Wilmington Fire Department started using it in July.
But the Wilmington Police Department does not stock Narcan, making it the largest police force in New Castle County not participating in the program.
And a Wilmington Police spokesperson said at the end of July the Department is not looking into it at this time.
According to the Division of Public Health, municipal police departments in Middletown, Newark, New Castle City, Newport, Delaware City and Elsmere all stock Narcan through OEMS.
The New Castle County Police Department also participates, and since joining the program in 2015 has used the drug 85 times.
New Castle County Police Sergeant Heather Carter says responding to overdose calls is not uncommon for County police.
“A person unresponsive and not breathing, we will respond to that,” she said. “The fire board will respond to it and sometimes EMS will respond to it, but there’s so many more officers within the communities readily available, sometimes we make it there before EMS can make it there.”
And Carter argues that means having naloxone on hand makes a difference.
“We know the impact that the opioid epidemic has had on the families that live in our communities that we patrol every day,” she said. “And by using the Narcan we are committed to continue the fight against the opioid epidemic.”
Carter says when a possible opioid overdose call goes out in an incorporated area of the County, like Wilmington, County police are told to Be On the Look Out. Municipal police might ask county officers to respond if they suspect it’s an overdose, and know County police are carrying Narcan.
In Wilmington, municipal officers do not carry the drug.
“At this point they are not participating, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t in the future,” said Brent Waninger, the naloxone program coordinator for OEMS.
Waninger says his office reaches out to all law enforcement agencies—and has contacted Wilmington Police Department. He says the program only requires that officers go through a short training presentation and the agency have a plan for storing the medication.
He says Wilmington Police has yet to show interest in stocking Narcan through OEMS, but notes state code makes its clear no public safety agency is compelled to do so.
“It’s a voluntary program that they can choose to participate if they wish,” he said. “Obviously as the state we want to get naloxone as widespread as possible through both first responders and communities. But ultimately it is an agency’s choice.”
The Wilmington Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for an interview about why they aren’t stocking Narcan.
Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy has previously noted to Delaware Public Media the quick response time of EMS in Wilmington and the challenges of storing Narcan, which must be kept at room temperature.
He did not issue a formal statement.