Anchorage police officials say they’re finalizing a policy for officers to begin carrying the opioid-reversing drug naloxone.
The move follows growing demands from residents, including parents of overdose victims, who want police to carry and use naloxone to curb a rising number of overdoses in Alaska. Naloxone is commonly known by the brand name Narcan.
The future use of Narcan by Anchorage police officers was not announced to the public. But in an email Wednesday, APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad confirmed that the department hopes to implement the policy by early next year.
“The policy is being edited and finalized,” Oistad wrote. “Once that has occurred, officers will be trained on both the policy and the application of Narcan.”
The decision to have officers carry Narcan is welcome news to Sandy Snodgrass, an advocate whose son Bruce died from a fentanyl overdose in October 2021.
“I’m glad, really pleased, that they will have another tool to serve the public with, having naloxone available,” Snodgrass said in an interview Wednesday.
Opioid-related deaths in Alaska have skyrocketed in recent years. State data shows a 70% increase in opioid-related deaths from 2020 to 2021. About three-quarters of those deaths involved the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The Anchorage Police Department is among the last major law enforcement agencies in Alaska that doesn’t have officers use naloxone. Alaska State Troopers, the Wasilla Police Department and Village Public Safety Officers are among agencies that have already trained their officers to use it.
Snodgrass held an August rally in front of the police department’s headquarters in downtown Anchorage to push for officers to carry Narcan, even handing out kits to officers as they walked in and out of the building. She said use of the reversal drug will not only be beneficial to the public, but to officers as well.
“There’ve been incidents in the country where police officers have been poisoned by fentanyl, and needed to be revived by their fellow officers on the scene,” Snodgrass said. “So I’m glad that Anchorage police officers will be safer.”
Snodgrass said while she’s grateful for the impending Narcan policy, she’s also frustrated that the policy has taken so long to come to fruition.
A day after Snodgrass’s August rally, Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle had expressed interest in revising the department’s longstanding policy against having officers carry Narcan. The previous policy had medics staffed with the fire department carry the drug instead.
In an email, Oistad, the APD spokeswoman, said the medical advisor with the fire department, whom the police were also coordinating with, had “changed his opinion on whether officers should carry Narcan.”
She says the tentative Narcan policy also had input from the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, the police officer’s union. APDEA head Jeremy Conkling said he welcomes the policy.
“Any tools that our officers can get that will help us better serve the citizens of Anchorage, we certainly support that,” Conkling said. “If this saves one life, it’s worth it.”
Conkling says he hasn’t seen any pushback from officers about the impending change.
Anchorage police officials declined an interview request Wednesday on the policy specifics and timelines, saying the policy has not been finalized yet.
This story has been updated with comments from the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.