These Opioid Addicts Looked Dead. Then Nashville Police Reached for their 'Magic' Drug.
Officer Justin Franklin had just left the police station in Hermitage when his radio crackled to life. He rushed to the Old Hickory area, where a woman was dying on her front porch.
The scene was so cliché it felt as if it had been ripped from a television screen. The woman was slumped on the porch steps, eyelids drooped and barely breathing. On the ground by her side was a syringe, a spoon and a dime bag. Relatives were weeping.
An ambulance has been called, but nobody knew if it would arrive in time.
Franklin had been here before. Not on this porch, or at this house, but stuck in this moment. During five years with the Metro Nashville Police Department, he had on a few occasions arrived at the scene of a drug overdose before ambulances or the fire department, then realized there was little he could do to help. Each time, he felt powerless. A badge and a gun meant nothing to an overdose.
But this time was different.
Franklin reached into a pocket on the front of his ballistic vest, searching for an answer. Only 90 minutes beforehand, his sergeant had issued him a package of nasal spray as part of a new program to stop overdoses. The spray is called Narcan and, in a war on overdoses, it is supposed to be a silver bullet.
Franklin ripped open the package and squirted the nasal spray into the woman’s left nostril. She didn’t stir.
Minutes ticked by, and Franklin’s hope faded with each passing second. He wondered if maybe this woman was too far gone. Or maybe this miracle drug didn’t work as well as advertised. Either way, by the time the ambulance arrived, Franklin felt defeated. He watched as medics loaded the woman’s limp, lifeless body onto a stretcher.
And then she came back. The woman sat up abruptly, wide-eyed, then tried to jump off the stretcher as medics hoisted it into the ambulance. Yanked back from the brink of death, she was confused, agitated and even a little combative — but she was alive.
“It felt good, that what I did actually saved her life. Years before this, she would have just laid there,” Franklin told The Tennessean. “Before Narcan, she likely would have died. There have been many times before, like I said, where we felt helpless.”
This overdose rescue — occurring on Sept. 1, 2017 — was the first for the MNPD. The agency issued anti-overdose nasal spray to hundreds of patrol officers last summer, and Metro cops have since used the nasal spray to reverse 14 potentially fatal overdoses, according to police records reviewed by The Tennessean. The department has recorded only one incident in which an overdose victim was treated with Narcan but still died.
Rescues like these place the MNPD among a growing list of U.S. law enforcement agencies that have assumed a new role on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, assisting with overdose treatments that have historically fallen to firefighters and medics.
This largely remains true in Nashville, where the fire department administers Narcan about 50 times more often than cops, but Metro police officers are now trained and equipped to become impromptu medics in the rare cases where they are the first on the scene of an opioid overdose.