Overdoses overwhelm Volusia County, almost all deputies now carrying Narcan

As many as 4 overdoses per day

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – In the early morning hours of June 13, Deputy Brandon Coker raced to a home in rural Pierson for a suspected overdose.

His dispatcher relayed to him that the 911 caller had just discovered a stash of needles in her son's room.

"There's a little zipper pouch thing and it has syringes in it," the caller told the dispatcher. "God almighty dear!"
The caller was the mother of a young man who was shooting up heroin with his girlfriend in his bedroom, according to deputies.

The young man was out of it; the young woman was unconscious.

"Yes, I have somebody unconscious in my house and I don't know what just happened," said the caller.

Ironically, Coker has just been issued two doses of the overdose-reversing nasal spray Narcan. He carries both in his front pockets.

"Mainly so we can have it so readily available," explained Coker.

He quickly realized the woman had overdosed and spray both doses, minutes apart, up her nose.

"After having all this training, you see this girl on the floor with blue lips, slow pulse, her boyfriend's freaking out," said Coker. "Kinda hit me. I'm here and I have Narcan, and I have to do something."

The woman suddenly woke up and began talking to Coker.

"It was like an instant trigger," said Coker. "To me, it was like I just saved this girl. Because I thought she was going to die, honestly."

Coker was the first deputy in Volusia County to save someone's life with Narcan.

Coker is now one of more than 200 deputies across Volusia County carrying Narcan. That's almost all of the deputies on patrol at the Sheriff's Office. Eventually all will carry Narcan.

Coker patrols the rural areas of northwestern Volusia. He arrived at the woman's home several minutes before paramedics.

"The fire department covers Barberville, Pierson and Seville, and there's one fire truck," said Coker.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood stressed the need for all deputies, especially in rural areas, to carry Narcan because of the growing opioid epidemic.

"As a matter of fact, in some ways it's even worse in the rural parts, because it's flying so far under the radar screen and no one's paying attention out there," said Chitwood. "By having those deputies who are assigned to that area, they're going to get there long before medical services are ever going to get there."

Coker said deputies answer two, three, even four calls per day across Volusia County for overdoses and administer Narcan.

Chitwood said deputies encounter heroin and the extremely potent fentanyl so often that they sometimes must use Narcan on themselves.

"In a car stop, they're making an arrest it's just as much we can be ingesting that and then we have to turn around and save ourselves," said Chitwood. "It's not just that we're saving our community, we're saving ourselves, making sure our deputies are protected in every way possible."

Chitwood's policy is not to arrest people who overdose but rather to help them. Chitwood said anyone who overdoses and is assisted by deputies will not face charges in order to encourage people to seek help when they need it.

Deputies now treat overdoses as homicides prompting a murder investigation in every case. Detectives are currently seeking several dealers responsible for recent overdose deaths.

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