Minneapolis firefighters have carried the lifesaving drug called naloxone since last May to revive people overdosing on opioids like prescription painkillers and heroin.
But city police officials have so far resisted calls to outfit their officers with the drug, previously arguing that firefighters and paramedics — not officers — are usually the first ones on the scene of an overdose. That may change soon.
New Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced at a community meeting earlier this week the department may soon start supplying naloxone to some of its officers. The proposed pilot project would for now focus on the Third Precinct, which encompasses the southern portion of the city.
The department on Friday emphasized that the program was far from a done deal.
"We are in the very early discussion of an exploratory phase to see if this is something that even can be possible," department spokesperson Sgt. Catherine Michal said Friday, adding that she didn't know why the department was warming up to the idea.
Narcan, a brand of naloxone that usually comes in spray form, works by blocking the drugs' brain receptors and kickstarting the respiratory system.
The news comes as the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation has tightened its grip on parts of Minneapolis.
Fire officials said they responded to 418 cases of overdoses or poisoning last year, a roughly 45 percent jump over the total number from 2015. So far this year, firefighters have responded to 297 such calls.
The Fire Department last May started equipping firefighters with Narcan. Since then, firefighters have used the drug 294 times on people experiencing overdoses from opioids.
Councilwoman Alondra Cano said the number of overdoses in her ward alone are staggering, and disproportionately affect blacks and American Indians.
"These lives are not disposable and so we should be doing anything possible to make sure that any responder should be equipped to handle a situation as well as possible," said Cano, who has pushed for outfitting officers with the antidote.