A Q&A with Chief John Lane
East Liverpool (Ohio) Police Department
The opioid epidemic continues to stretch across the United States, just as it has been doing in Canada and the United Kingdom. Last month, an East Liverpool (Ohio) police officer accidentally came into contact with fentanyl and overdosed.
He was treated with one dose of Narcan at the station and three more at the local hospital to save his life.
We spoke to Chief John Lane, whose department of 17 officers has had multiple run-ins with fentanyl-related incidents, and asked him five questions about the impacts of the epidemic on the community of 11,000 people along Ohio’s eastern border with Pennsylvania.
How is the officer now?
He is doing well. He is back to work. He is a bulldog, he is always chasing drugs. It took him a few days before he started feeling better but he is doing well now. He had some chest pains afterward. They say the drug slows your heart way down, and the Narcan gives a shock to the system to revive you.
How does a police chief lead under these types of conditions?
I have to try to think ahead of ways to protect my guys. They are trying to protect the city and sometimes you have to protect them from themselves because these guys are hard charges, and they have to think about themselves. They think they are invincible, and all it takes is just touching touch it. In this case, the officer just brushed some power off his shirt. It’s hard to get them to slow down, and this didn’t even happen out on the streets. It’s also important that they have to think about them bringing it home to their families, their kids, or anyone around them. This stuff is that strong, that dangerous.
What changes in protocol have you made?
It is hard with a small department. We don’t have a lot of people or a lot of money. You need the gloves, the masks, the protective gear. You need to have Narcan. You can touch fentanyl or inhale it, and just like that, it’s got you. It is scary to think about. Our guys don’t carry Narcan, we leave that to the ambulance paramedics. They are the professionals, and really, how much can we carry in our cars? How much is enough? I’d rather the paramedics are dealing with that. If we were a rural county, it might be a different story.
In a small town like this, we run out of Narcan. The ambulances carry it, and when they get there to the scene to use, they are counting it out, saying how many cans they have left. They were down to their last one on one case.
The big changes are when we do evidence collection. There are no more field tests. We want two guys back at the station, together, gloved up, double bags, everything we can possibly do so we aren’t leaving a trail of it. Even if we think it is cocaine, and sometime people tell us it is and they are lying but they are already getting arrested. They don’t care.
How does the opioid crisis compare with previous narcotics-driven epidemics?
As far as the officers or people innocent of it being overcome by it, there’s never been anything like it in my career. The danger is incredible. I worry about it being used as a weapon. If people sprinkled it somewhere above where you had a lot of people, you could have a mass casualty situation. Get it in the air. Spread it on doorknobs. It is that strong. It is a terrorist’s dream. I have never heard of anyone worrying about it being used as a weapon. But it is so simple, just touching it will take you down. Someone could just sprinkle it on door knobs. My goodness, the possibilities are endless.
In September 2016, the department released images of an overdosed couple passed out with a 4-year-old child. The department received some criticism for it but you were adamant that it was the right move. You spoke to a reporter and said, “Enough already. People need to know what is happening. This picture is graphic, it’s disturbing. I need people to get upset and help us take back the streets. I need the presidential candidates to look at this and tell me what they will do to fix it.” Three quarters of a year later, do you still feel the same way?
People even today don’t want to realize how dangerous these things are. In that particular picture, the kid is in the back seat. What do kids do? Touch everything. It can kill everybody. I don’t think people realize how dangerous it is. And that was just fentanyl, not carfentanil, which is so much stronger.
I will tell you what, the laws are going to have to change when it comes to this stuff simply because of how dangerous it is.
I have talked to some people who say they haven’t had to deal with it. I tell them, it’s there. They just haven’t had to experience it. Be glad that’s the case, but it won’t last. All of that stuff is around. It’s in just about every community. And if they ain’t got it yet, it is coming.
Chief John Lane has been with the East Liverpool Police Department for 22 years where he started his career as a patrolman. He was promoted to captain in 2000 and then took over as chief in 2013. He graduated from Ohio State with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice.