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Washington DOC Outfits Guards with Narcan

On August 31, 2023, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) completed implementation of a new policy permitting staffers to carry naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, while on duty. But allowing guards to carry the life-­saving drug—used to counteract the effect of a prisoner’s overdose—doesn’t mean that many will do so.

Some guards expressed moral objections, citing the debunked belief that giving prisoners naloxone, the generic name for Narcan, enables their drug habits. However, the federal Food and Drug Administration granted approval to sell Narcan over the counter on March 29, 2023, adding approval for a second naloxone product, RiVive, on July 28, 2023, about the time of DOC’s policy change.

Though Narcan kits have been in DOC prisons since 2018, they were kept in secure locations inaccessible to most staffers. In April 2023, many guards at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton reported that they didn’t know where kits were located. Others expressed reluctance to use them; despite mandatory training, some did not know how to use Narcan properly, and some discouraged each other from learning. Prisoners, on the other hand, could benefit enormously from access to the life-­saving treatment.

The policy change allows only DOC staff to carry Narcan, but prisoners could be trained to administer it. The change was suggested by a guard at Washington State Penitentiary, as an augment to staff Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The proposal was then reviewed by Washington’s Statewide Security Advisory Committee, following the same process that introduced Narcan kits in 2018. Ultimately, DOC authorized all employees and contract staff to carry personal Narcan supplies while on duty.

Among the reasons some guards offered for carrying Narcan was that they need it in case of exposure to fentanyl while conducting pat-­down searches. However, the risk of secondhand fentanyl exposure causing an overdose is widely considered a myth, and it certainly cannot lead to overdose so long as a guard remains conscious to self-­administer Narcan.

While allowing guards to carry Narcan is a positive step, making it accessible to prisoners would be even more effective in reducing fatal overdoses, especially in maximum-­security units. Prisoners in these units often have limited interaction with staff and can respond more quickly to emergencies involving fellow prisoners.  


Source: Filter Magazine

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