COVINGTON, Va. – A lot of families in Southwest Virginia have seen the devastating effects of opioid addiction firsthand, and so have law enforcement officers across the area.
"If they haven't affected your family, you're lucky, because they're affecting so many families across Alleghany County, Covington and the commonwealth of Virginia and the United States as a whole," said Chief Deputy Matthew Bowser, with the Alleghany County Sheriff's Office.
More agencies are adding tools in their fight against the opioid epidemic, including naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. Many people know it by its brand name of Narcan.
"I believe that it's important that anytime you can save a life, we do save a life," Bowser said. "That's our job."
This week, the Sheriff's Office trained all of its deputies, as well as medical staff at the Alleghany Regional Jail, on how to use the Narcan nasal spray. Each deputy, when on patrol, will carry a small pouch containing two doses of the drug.
"There's a lot of times that the deputy will be first on the scene," Bowser said. "It may take 15-20 minutes, depending on where they're located, for the EMS to get there and respond."
Sheriff's deputies with the Franklin County and Montgomery County sheriff's offices also carry naloxone. Roanoke County and Roanoke City police do not, but said emergency medical services and fire and rescue crews do.
Members of the Alleghany County Sheriff's Office Emergency Response Team are also trained to use Evzio, a naloxone auto-injector. Bowser said deputies can use it to self-administer naloxone, just in case they come into contact with an opioid on the job.
"We haven't had any cases here in Alleghany, but there have been cases across the Commonwealth and across the U.S. where law enforcement has come into contact with fentanyl or an opioid, just processing evidence or searching a vehicle or arresting a subject when they pull something out of their pocket," Bowser said.
Bowser said naloxone is approved for use in adults, children, expectant mothers and even canines. He said the training takes about two hours.