Police officers equipped with a miracle nasal spray have saved the lives of two drug overdose victims in Flintshire.
The officers have volunteered to take part in a ground-breaking trial with the Naloxone spray which reverses the effect of heroin and other opioid-based overdoses.
The latest incident happened in Connah’s Quay when colleagues from North Wales Police were called to a flat in the town and reported back to say they had found a man who was unconscious with a suspected overdose.
Listening in to the call were Police Constables Tom Brownhill and James Tapley, two of the 12-strong volunteer group trained to use the Naloxone spray championed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who has been instrumental in the pilot being carried out in Flintshire.
The county has a significant drug abuse problem and in the most recent two-year period for which there are records, 2016-2018, there were 21 drug-related deaths, more than a fifth of the North Wales total.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, now hopes the life-saving idea can be rolled out across the rest of North Wales and that other officers will put themselves forward to be trained.
PC Brownhill, a police officer for eight years, said: “When the call came in, we recognised the symptoms of a drug overdose so we responded under blue lights and made sure an ambulance was on its way too.
“The property is used as a squat and when we got there the man was out for the count. He’s a long-time heroin user and although the other people there said he hadn’t taken anything it was clear he had.
“His breathing was very laboured and he was unconscious so we each gave him both doses of the spray which we both carry.
“It acts very quickly and within three minutes he was he started to come round but he had certainly been in a bad way.
“He was hypothermic which means his body temperature had dropped rapidly and I think he was just minutes away from death and although the ambulance was there quickly, I think it would have been too late.”
Both officers were trained to use Naloxone last summer after volunteering to take part in the trial and PC Brownhill added: “This was the first time I’ve been able to use the Naloxone but I have previously been called to several incidents including fatalities because of drug overdose.
“It’s good to know that we can be part of the solution in these cases rather than having to stand by and wait for the ambulance.”
PC Tapley, who joined the Force ten years ago, said: “The Naloxone is a simple nasal spray and it worked exactly how they said it would when we were training.
“We found out afterwards it was confirmed as a heroin overdose and the patient recovered but without it we would have just been waiting for the ambulance and they’re probably even busier than we are in the current pandemic.”
The first life saved in the trial happened a month earlier when another of the volunteer team, Sergeant Gill Roberts, based in Mold, was called to a hotel car park by officers who had found a man unconscious.
Sergeant Roberts, a policewoman for 23 years, said: “A firearms unit had found a man lying in the car park of the Holiday Inn in Northop after his family reported him missing with concerns around his mental health.
“They found a packet of sleeping tablets on him and called the Welsh Ambulance Service who advised that someone with Naloxone training should attend.
“The unit’s officers aren’t trained to use Naloxone but I am so I travelled there from Mold and found him collapsed against a car and unconscious.
“I put on my PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – and gave him a dose of the Naloxone.
“It’s just like any nasal spray and you use it the same way and within 30 seconds he was back, aware and responding and from that point he steadily became more and more coherent until the ambulance arrived and was able to take him to hospital.”
The Commissioner is a long-time campaigner against drug laws in the UK which has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe.
He said: “I’m very pleased that already lives have been saved as a result of training police officers to use the Naloxone spray.
“It’s the first principle of policing that we’re there to save lives and protect people and this is part of our core business.
“It’s very important for police officers to be able to save life and that’s why this training is so important because there’s nothing worse than turning up at an incident and being unable to help.
“Naloxone is like a defibrillator and I see no difference between it and using a defibrillator on someone who has had a heart attack.”
All the officers taking part in the trial have volunteered to carry the spray, which can be used to treat overdoses of drugs including heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers, while out on the beat and are equipped with PPE including facemasks if they need to administer it.
Sergeant Roberts, who trained to use Naloxone alongside Arfon Jones last June, said: “The ambulance service is very stretched now and often in overdose situations it is the police that are on scene first but without Naloxone there would be very little we could do.
“It’s literally like any nasal spray that you might use for something like hay fever and I just thought that my taking that very simple action could save someone’s life.
“The Deputy Chief Constable, Richard Debicki, spoke to us at the training and the Force has been very supportive while Arfon Jones actually trained alongside me and so did Inspector Iwan Jones who is the territorial inspector for Flintshire South.”
The Commissioner, who has announced he will retire before the next election, scheduled for May, added: “All lives have equal worth and the most important thing here is that a person is alive but there are other concerns because if we hadn’t been able to bring this person round there would have had to be an enquiry into a death following police contact.
“There’s a benefit to the police because a death could affect their morale and mental health so while we are trialling Naloxone, I hope it will soon be rolled out across North Wales and that we will shortly be training more police volunteers.”
Deputy Chief Constable Richard Debicki added: “‘It is really heartening to see the use of Naloxone making a difference in saving peoples’ lives.
“I am extremely proud of those officers who have put themselves forward to be trained in the use of and carry Naloxone, and who have been called upon to use it in two cases recently.
“I think that North Wales Police is at the forefront here, but I absolutely feel that it is the right thing to do in protecting people who are vulnerable.”