TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The Tempe Police Department is about to launch an ambitious project to give officers the tools to treat addicts suffering an overdose and put them on the path to recovery. The agency is one of the last in the valley to put naloxone, the overdose-reversing medicine, into the hands of officers.
“It’s not just deploying naloxone into the community, it’s also that aftercare,” says Tempe Police Sgt. Robert Ferraro. “We’re trying to be thoughtful of how to really attack this problem and this crisis.”
Ferraro says the department is one of a few municipalities in the country to receive a $2 million federal grant that will provide funding over four years to tackle the opioid crisis.
“If an officer or firefighter or paramedic deploys naloxone to a suspected overdose [patient] they contact a dedicated crisis response team,” says Ferraro. “Within 24 hours there’s an intervention occurring in the hospital or wherever that individual is. And then for 60 days, there’s ongoing care.”
The grant will also provide naloxone to officers and families of overdose survivors, provide continued care through non-profit Empact Suicide Prevention, and include a partnership with Arizona State University to track the program’s progress.
Lindsey Castro-Maki is a Valley mom who receives recovery services through La Frontera which oversees Empact Suicide Prevention. She says the grant could help others, like her, who have struggled with addiction.
[TIMELINE: Emergence of the opioid crisis]
She says she doesn’t remember much from the day that changed everything.
“I was just dragged out of the car and I woke up in the dirt with my head on the cement,” says Castro-Maki.
She had almost died after shooting up with relatives. Castro-Maki says they tried to douse her with water to wake her before giving her Narcan. She still has the water-stained sneakers she was wearing that day, keeping them as a “hardcore reminder” to never go back to that way of life.
“I always see these and it’s like, don’t make that choice again,” says Castro-Maki.
Her journey through addiction began years ago. Castro-Maki was a college graduate working as a television director. She loved her job and had a promising future.
Castro-Maki was also battling cancer and taking pain medications to get by, when suddenly she was cut off.
“I just realized what’s the next route I need to go?” says Castro-Maki. “It just went downhill from there.”
In 2016 she turned to heroin for relief. Castro-Maki says addiction can happen to anyone, and more can be done to tackle the epidemic.
Maricopa County has the highest number of opioid-related deaths in the state. According to it’s community health stats, 917 people died from suspected opioid related deaths from June 2018 to May 2019. The figure includes deaths related to prescription use and heroin.
In recent years, law enforcement across Arizona have been supplying officers with naloxone kits provided free through the Arizona Department of Health Services. As a result of Arizona Family’s reporting, Phoenix Police patrol officers began carrying naloxone in 2019. Previously only a select few officers carried the life-saving medication.
While some critics argue police should not be responsible for providing medical care by administering naloxone, Sgt. Ferraro says officers want to help.
“We have a duty to serve and protect and we take that very seriously,” says Ferraro. “Folks can have their opinions on how we deal with it, but ultimately, we’re doing the right thing.”