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A weapon against overdose

Medford police patrol cars and detective vehicles are now equipped with a substance intended to counter heroin and other opiate overdoses.

As of Wednesday, about 30 vehicles in the department's motor pool contained the nasal spray Naloxone, which blocks opioid receptors for 20 to 90 minutes, temporarily counteracting the effects of an overdose.

Medford police Deputy Chief Brett Johnson said police are often the first to arrive at the scene of suspected overdoses, and Naloxone offers patients a better window of survival until medical personnel arrive.

"If we show up at the same time, we're obviously going to defer to the experts," Johnson said. "We haven't used it yet, but we anticipate that we will. I think we'll probably end up using it a few times a year."

The amount of heroin seized by the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force has been on an upward trajectory the past five years. In 2010, the agency seized 3 pounds, 10.5 ounces. That number almost doubled in 2011, with 6 pounds, 7.5 ounces seized. The year 2012 saw a drastic spike, with 54 pounds, 1.5 ounces seized, though 47 pounds came from one seizure on a bus. In 2013, MADGE seized 13 pounds, 7.4 ounces of heroin; in 2014, 12 pounds, 5.1 ounces.

"We dropped about a pound (last) year, but we're still seeing plenty of it," Johnson said, adding calls for opiate overdoses also have surged.

The cost for the Naloxone substance and training is less than $2,000, Johnson said, and he is hoping for some potential reimbursement through the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Program and the Oregon Department of Justice.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.