Wilmington police will start carrying Narcan amid growing overdoses


  • Over half of Delaware’s 39 police departments began wearing naloxone in 2016.
  • New Castle County EMTs began carrying naloxone in 2015, and the Wilmington Fire Department was trained to start carrying the drug three years later.
  • According to state data, emergency services used the most Narcan to resuscitate people in New Castle County from July through September, with the vast majority in Wilmington.

After years of refusing to carry the life-saving drug, the Wilmington Police Department announced Tuesday that its nearly 300 officers will begin carrying the drug naloxone, also known as narcan.

The decision comes after what the Delaware Division of Forensic Sciences estimates to be the deadliest overdose year for the state.

Department spokesman David Karas said the Wilmington Police Department received the narcan kits free of charge from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services — enough to cover all patrol officers and other units like the Canine Unit, the Special Operations Division and the Drug, Organized Crime and Deputy Division. Officials receive official training on the administration of naloxone.

“The need is clear,” Karas said.

OPIOID CRISIS:From patent to Percocet: How this powerful opioid got its start in Delaware

Why the police wear naloxone

More than half of Delaware’s 39 police departments began hauling naloxone in 2016, when the attorney general used $50,000 from the state’s Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund — which is often used to fund technology, weapons and new vehicles — to help to buy the kits.

The Wilmington Police Department had previously held talks with the state about providing their officers with Narcan, but Delaware Behavioral Health Consortium Chairperson Dr. Sandra Gibney, who was involved in the discussion, said that ultimately it never worked.

MORE:‘Catch-up’: As opioid overdoses rise in Delaware, so does the ‘zombie drug’

Karas said Wilmington Police had not previously felt the need to carry naloxone because local fire departments and emergency medical personnel – who often dispatch with police – already carried it.

New Castle County EMTs began carrying naloxone in 2015, and the Wilmington Fire Department was trained to start carrying the drug three years later.

The New Castle County Police Department has also carried Narcan since 2015, providing an additional Narcan resource for the city and region. With that in mind, activists like David Humes, board member of AtTAcK Addiction, said they have shifted their focus from outfitting officers in Wilmington to supplying Narcan to police departments across the state where there are no statewide officers.

The Wilmington Police Department’s decision to finally begin hauling naloxone comes less than a month after the leadership of the department’s new chief, Wilfredo Campos. The department spokesman did not say whether the Jan. 6 change of command played any role in the decision to carry Narcan.

BACKGROUND:The Opioid Addiction Crisis: How It Started, Who Is Involved, and What Else You Need to Know

Regardless of the reasons for the decision to wear Narcan — or the many years it took to achieve it — Gibney said it was a “brilliant step forward” for the Wilmington Police Department.

Where do overdoses occur?

Officials are often the first to meet people who have overdosed, and Gibney said having Narcan available will make a world of difference. A recent report from the Delaware Drug Monitoring Initiative shows that unlike Downstate, people in New Castle County often overdose on the streets or in abandoned homes rather than inside their homes, making them more likely to be encountered by police on patrols .

Most drug-related arrests are also made in Wilmington, followed by Newark and Dover.

OVERDOSE:Delaware’s drug overdose deaths are on the rise in the state’s black community. What the data shows

According to the same report, from July through September, emergency services used the most Narcan to resuscitate people in New Castle County, with the vast majority in Wilmington. But when it came to naloxone doses administered by police during this period, most were administered in Kent County.

In all counties, most Narcan doses were administered after first responders said they suspected a heroin overdose.

Naloxone is also available to community members outside of law enforcement and the medical field. The Wilmington Police Department regularly distributes Narcan, as do other police departments and non-profit organizations operating in the community. They also give out fentanyl test strips, a harm reduction strategy to help people with active addictions know if fentanyl has been spiked into their medications.

DAMAGE REDUCTION:From clean needles to free naloxone, counseling groups in Delaware reduce addiction harm

What do people overdose on?

The synthetic opioid is present in most opioid-related deaths, according to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science. And while fentanyl overdoses can still be reversed by Narcan, overdoses of a powerful new drug gaining traction in Wilmington cannot.

Xylazine, used medicinally as a tranquilizer for animals, is not an opioid. So while naloxone can help if the xylazine is mixed with heroin or fentanyl, there is no guarantee that the overdose can be reversed. Scientists have yet to develop the equivalent of Narcan to treat xylazine overdoses, and forensic scientists are still developing better ways to test the drug after a person’s death.

FENTANYL:What a court conviction of fentanyl and a new awareness campaign about the opioid crisis tell us

“It’s like a mole,” Gibney said; Just as a solution becomes more widespread, a new problem emerges.

That doesn’t mean, however, that moves like the Wilmington Police Department’s decision to start wearing naloxone won’t make a difference.

“The more we (Narcan) get out there, the more lives will be saved,” Humes said.

How to find help

Delaware Hope Line: 833-9-HOPEDE for free 24/7 counseling, coaching and support, as well as links to mental health, addiction and crisis services. You can also find resources on the Help is Here website.

suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988

National SAMHSA hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357) for free 24-hour Substance Abuse Disorder Treatment referral services. Local treatment services are also available online at or by SMS by sending your zip code to 435748.

Syringe service program: Mobile outreach sites are available nationwide for free needle exchanges, HIV and hepatitis C screening, and treatment referrals. The monthly schedule can be found online at

Send story tips or ideas to Hannah Edelman at [email protected] Follow them on Twitter at @h_edelman for more stories.

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