Garden Grove PD wastes no time in proving value of nasal spray to halt opioid overdoses

By Greg Hardesty

Garden Grove PD Cpl. Chuck Starnes has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

In December 2015, while on patrol, he responded to a call at the Hospitality Inn and delivered a baby boy.

That same year, he and two others — Sgt. Jon Wainright and Sgt. Vince Vaicaro — saved the life of a suicidal man on a domestic violence call. The man had shot himself in the stomach with a rifle, and Starnes stuffed a woman’s undergarment in the wound to slow the bleeding until medics arrived.

On another domestic violence call a few years ago, Starnes and three others, including Officer Sindy Orozco, revived another suicidal man who had hung himself.

Starnes got him off the rope and performed CPR. With other officers doing chest compressions and Starnes breathing into his mouth for four minutes, they were on him, reviving him before paramedics rolled up to the scene.

So it’s no surprise that one week to the day after the GGPD trained its patrol officers in the dispensing of Narcan, a nasal spray that blocks and reverses the effects of opioids and is used on someone in the throes of an overdose, it was Starnes who proved the effectiveness of the medication in the field.

Starnes isn’t even a patrol officer anymore.

In early August, he became the corporal in charge of recruiting and hiring at the GGPD, a job within the Professional Standards Division that requires him to wear a tie, pressed shirt and slacks.

But Starnes was working overtime as a graveyard-shift patrol officer Sept. 24-25 when a call came in about a man in his 20s who possibly was overdosing on heroin.

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Just a week earlier, on Monday, Sept. 18, Starnes was part of a team of officers training patrol officers how to use Narcan in the field.

More and more law enforcement agencies on the West Coast are equipping their officers with the life-saving Narcan nasal spray, first implemented locally in October 2016 by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“This is in response to the epidemic of opioid overdoses, which are increasing at an alarming rate not only in Orange County, but throughout the country,” said GGPD Sgt. Mike Viscomi, who helped shepherd the first stage of the rollout of the Narcan kits at the GGPD on Sept. 18.

By the end of October, all sworn GGPD personnel will be equipped with Narcan kits while in the field. The Garden Grove Fire Department is assisting the GGPD in training.

The medication — technically naloxone, but sold under brand names including Narcan — is effective on heroin, methadone, morphine, opium, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

It takes between one and three minutes to kick in, and lasts 30 to 90 minutes.

It’s not possible to overdose on Narcan.

JUST AROUND THE CORNER

Starnes was more than halfway through his shift when, at around 2:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 25, he got a call regarding a man down between two cars in an industrial complex near Westminster Avenue and Harbor Boulevard.

A passerby on a bicycle saw the man and believed he had overdosed on heroin. The man on the bike didn’t have a cell phone, so he rolled to a nearby 24-hour self-service car wash to borrow someone’s phone to call 911.

Starnes happened to be right around the corner and was on the scene in less than a minute.

Narcan is effective in halting the effects of someone overdosing on heroin or other opioids.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

As a certified DRE (Drug Recognition Expert), Starnes immediately recognized the man was overdosing — most likely on heroin, although he didn’t see any needles on or around the man.

“His pulse was low, about seven breaths a minute, and his eyes were rolled back into his head,” Starnes recalled.

The veteran officer retrieved the nasal spray from the personal bag he keeps on the passenger seat in his patrol car.

He blasted one dose up the unresponsive man’s left nostril.

Thirty seconds later, the man started coming to.

Starnes dispensed another dose up the man’s right nostril.

Within three minutes, the man had regained his faculties.

“Hey, you alright?” Starnes asked him. “How much heroin did you use? I need to tell the medics when they arrive.”

The man denied being on heroin, saying he had experienced a heart attack.

Narcan doesn’t work on heart attacks, Starnes noted.

He and Viscomi aren’t sure if the man would have died if Starnes had not dispensed the Narcan.

But they were happy to have had the medication available.

“We’re fortunate we rolled it out when we did,” Viscomi said.

Noted Starnes: “We were three weeks ahead of schedule.”

The man didn’t thank Starnes.

The officer shrugged when asked how he felt about that.

“We don’t get a lot of (positive feedback) from the contacts we make in the field,” Starnes said.

No worries, he and Viscomi agreed.

“We’re happy to have this additional tool available,” Starnes said.

The Garden Grove PD asks that anyone who witnesses a person experiencing an overdose, immediately dial 911. California law provides protection from prosecution of drug possession for persons reporting drug-related overdoses.