Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh calls for all first responders to carry anti-overdose medicine

Following an alarming spike in drug overdoses in the city in recent years, Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Tuesday made his first major policy announcement on the issue.

Speaking at the district police station in South Boston, a community hard-hit by opiate addiction, Walsh announced a series of community-based workshops, and called for all first responders to carry Narcan, a spray mist medication used to reverse opiate overdoses.

“Research has shown that making Narcan available does not encourage people to use opiates,” Walsh said. “It simply interrupts the course of their overdose. It saves lives.”

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Barbara Ferrer, the city’s public health commissioner, said there had been a 76 percent increase in the rate of heroin overdoses between 2010 and 2012. The rate of prescription drug overdoses has jumped 38 percent between 2009 and 2012, she said.

All EMTs and paramedics with Boston EMS currently carry Narcan – as of last week, the drug had been administered 52 times this year – but Walsh’s proposal would expand the program to police and firefighters.

In an effort to get Narcan to more people in need, the state has already passed a “Good Samaritan” law that offers protection from drug possession charges for people who call 911 if they are experiencing an overdose or witness someone who is.

“There are too many drugs out here,” Police Commissioner William Evans said. “There are bad batches of heroin. To have these tools in our cars, in our officers’ hands, is another excellent tool in combating overdose deaths.”

Evans, a lifelong South Boston resident, spoke of the incredible impact that drugs have had on that community in recent years. “A lot of good families are being impacted by the use of Oxycontin and heroin,” Evans said. “And I always say, it doesn’t matter how good the parents are or what the upbringing is. These drugs are so dangerous that if a kid tries it once, then they are hooked.”

The Public Health Commission will host five community workshops in February in South Boston, East Boston, the South End, Dorchester and Allston-Brighton, communities with disproportionately high levels of substance abuse. The events aim to provide residents with overdose prevention training, an overview of treatment options in the city, information on how to access Narcan, and an opportunity to meet with the neighborhood substance abuse coalitions.