The tiny Sussex County community of Ocean View is the first in Delaware to arm its officers with heroin overdose prevention treatment, Narcan.
With little more than a thousand residents, Ocean View is the epitome of small town Delaware. For years, the small farming community near Bethany Beach was known for one thing: chickens. “Our claim to fame in Ocean View is the birthplace of the broiler chicken industry,” said Ocean View Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin.
For a long time, McLaughlin’s department spent most of its efforts on routine traffic stops. Now there are bigger issues.
“Sadly, the drugs are everywhere,” said Ocean View patrolman Brian Caselli. “We know we’re going to see it on the streets, whether it’s off a traffic stop or being called to somebody’s house for some type of situation.”
When McLaughlin first started his policing career in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the crack cocaine-fueled violent crime epidemic was at its zenith. “When that waned, it was relatively calm,” McLaughlin said. “Within the last two years or so, we see that same type of crime reoccurring. Now, it’s associated with the heroin epidemic.”
Heroin use is rampant and isn’t going away in the foreseeable future. Ocean View went a decade without a single heroin arrest. Now, they make one or two arrests a week, and the addiction rate is growing. “I know wealthy people that are addicted. I know poor people that are addicted. Males, females, everyone’s at risk.”
Recognizing the current heroin problem starts with the abuse of prescription medication; McLaughlin set up a mailbox in town for residents to drop off old medication in an effort to keep it away from friends or family members.
Often because of the high cost of prescription drugs, addicts migrate to heroin for a more affordable high. As more addicts make that switch, the police calls for overdose cases continue to rise.
“We were really powerless to do anything until the paramedics got there,” McLaughlin said. The paramedics carried Narcan, also known as Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.
Last June, Delaware lawmakers approved a measure that expanded the number of groups allowed to carry and administer Narcan. Ocean View is the first department in Delaware to be certified to use the drug since the law allowing police to carry it was signed last August and costs the department about a hundred dollars per officer.
Each of the eight members of the Ocean View Police Dept. get two vials of Narcan to administer in case they need to respond to an overdose case. “Our job out here…is actually to save lives and help out people. That’s 100 percent of what the Narcan is for, especially with these opiate heroin overdoses,” Caselli said.
Caselli has made one heroin arrest since he joined the force in mid-2014. He hasn’t used Narcan, at least not yet. “You never know when you are going to need it whether it’s in your own town or in a neighboring town has an overdose. All the neighboring towns know we carry the Narcan and would call us over there if needed.”
Chief McLaughlin is proud that Ocean View is the first to implement the use of Narcan. “I think they’re going to be as prevalent as the defibrillators are.”
He said it’s the heroin addiction fight that is a long term effort. “I think this is something we’re going to be dealing with for quite some time.”