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Encounters with Police

Encounters with Police

NOTE: Quotes are presented word for word apart from minor editing for readability and clarity. Identifying details have been removed. Square brackets show text that has been added or, where ellipses (three dots) appear, removed. For example, ‘Since I actually participated in this Narcan [training], I’ve administered it to two people and it’s brought them around […] I wouldn’t think twice about [doing] it. Saving someone’s life is the main thing.’

Many people we interviewed for this website speak about different issues that shape whether and how they’re able to use take-home naloxone. In this way, they often locate their experiences and actions within a social context that they describe as making it harder or easier to get and use take-home naloxone for overdoses.

Notably, none of the people who consumed opioids for chronic pain spoke of experiences with police or fears of police encounters. While many of the people interviewed who consumed non-prescribed opioids such as heroin had encounters with police, about half of those who had acquired take-home naloxone did not describe police interactions related to their use of it or responding to overdoses more generally.

For others, encounters with police had important implications for experiences of overdose and use of take-home naloxone. Some describe very negative encounters while others describe more positive experiences that led to police changing their responses to naloxone. Overall, the experiences and views offered here suggest that encounters with police can limit responses to overdose in general, and access to and use of take-home naloxone in particular, to save lives in the community.

Some participants focus on the effect concerns about police have on their own actions and the actions of others during overdoses.


Valentina (F, early 40s, NSW, non-prescribed opioids) recounts a time when she and a friend both overdosed on the same night. She explains that, along with a group of friends, they decided to leave their house and stay somewhere else after an operator said the police would arrive if they called triple zero again. (Read her personal story here)

We got smack [heroin] and then my girlfriend had a shot, $50 worth, and overdosed. And I think they called an ambulance at that stage, and I had half of what she had and I overdosed. The ambulance was on its way [to us], and my boyfriend at the time was trying to resuscitate me […] And in the meantime, my girlfriend’s come to and she’s okay, and the ambulance arrives and gave me a shot of naloxone. [So I came to after overdosing] and the ambulance left. I think someone had said to my girlfriend [during] the second call [to triple zero], yeah, ‘This is the second ambulance you’ve called for tonight. If we hear from you again, you know, we’ll have to send the cops around or something.’ So we cleared out the entire house and went up around the corner to a friend who was a dealer, and we all just crashed there for the night. So that was pretty harrowing.

Similarly, Julia (F, mid 50s, NSW, non-prescribed opioids) describes how she believes her sister’s overdose death resulted from delays in calling an ambulance due to concerns about police attendance. (Read her personal story here)

I have met people who still think the police have to help [at overdoses], which amazes me. I’ve tried to say [to them], ‘No, they don’t, you know’. I know this because my sister died because the police had to come [in the past]. [She overdosed] and everybody faffed around so much worrying about what was going to happen, you know, that they gave her time to die. And a lot of young people died in those days because of that stupid law. So now they’ve changed it.

Encounters reported with emergency services such as police varied, but many talk about how these encounters affected what they thought about and did with take-home naloxone. Some participants report worrying about carrying take-home naloxone in public after encounters with police.

Karen (F, early 30s, Vic, non-prescribed opioids) says she doesn’t carry it in her bag any more, but her husband still does. (Read her personal story here)

My husband usually has one [take-home naloxone kit] in his bag. It’s like a ‘you are ready to [go] kit’. But we’ve been in trouble. The weird thing about it, we’ve been in trouble with the police for holding it. […I have been searched by police in public] more than once, but it happened most recently, like, three months ago. I literally got caught and I got my whole bag tipped out, and they asked what it was. They actually took me back to the police station so they could call a doctor up to prove that that [the] script [I had in my bag] was naloxone and it wasn’t anything else. […] Yeah, that’s why I’m not carrying it. My husband carries it because he still thinks, ‘Well, I don’t care if they’re going to reprimand me’ […] The police need to broaden their horizons on knowing what naloxone is and understanding that it’s actually beneficial and helping people, [rather] than abusing us for holding it.

Similarly, Julia (F, mid 50s, NSW, non-prescribed opioids) says she now always keeps her naloxone at home because she’s been interrogated by police about it in the past. (Read her personal story here)

I’ve got some [naloxone] at home. After [a negative] situation with the police, I’m quite reluctant to carry it [in public]. [The police questioning] has had that effect on me. I mean, it’s not going to be useful if I’m not able to carry it. It’s no good at home […] I couldn’t believe that the [police] didn’t know that [take-home naloxone is available and legal].

Lenny (M, early 40s, Vic, non-prescribed opioids) tells the story of being questioned by police soon after completing overdose response training and having his naloxone taken. (Read his personal story here)

We all left the class at the same time and we all got pulled over at the same time and there was just this one jack [police officer] and everyone realised that this jack was just [questioning] me. We all handed our cards over and [take-home naloxone] kits over and that. Then, a few days later, we get them back at [the community health service that gave us the naloxone] and [this happened] just because of this one anal jack, pretty much.

While Lenny reflects that this experience made him feel ‘put down’ after trying to help society, he continues to carry naloxone and has revived several people from overdoses.

A few of the people we interviewed explained that interactions with the police became opportunities to explain the use and purpose of take-home naloxone. Some of our participants commented that, after hearing more about naloxone, the police left them alone.

Dylan (M, early 30s, Vic, non-prescribed opioids) describes having to convince police that carrying naloxone isn’t against the law. Importantly, the police in his area have assured him that they will not confiscate it in the future. (Read his personal story here)

One of the main concerns I used to have about carrying [take-home naloxone] on me personally is police, a lot of the time, especially if they’re new recruits or new to this area, will stop [you] and one of the questions they ask is, ‘Do you have anything in your backpack you shouldn’t have?’

I respond with, ‘There are items in my backpack that I believe you don’t think I should have, but I’m entitled and authorised to carry them.’

‘Oh yeah, like what?’

‘Well, I’ve got sterile sharps, I’ve got used sharps and I have a naloxone administration kit.’

They generally ask to see it, I pull it out, show them and, initially, as I said, when the naloxone training programs were first being started, police were unsure about it and would confiscate them. They have now given an assurance […] that if they come across us and they see us with a naloxone kit, they will not be confiscating them any more.

Others describe situations in which they were able to explain the purpose and use of naloxone to police. Julian (M, late 40s, Vic, non-prescribed opioids) recounts a situation where he explained his take-home naloxone to two police officers who expressed different opinions about it. (Read his personal story here)

I’ve been pulled over once and they’ve said, ‘What’s that?’ and I’ve said, ‘Naloxone.’ One cop knew what it was and just went, ‘That’s a good idea.’ And the other one didn’t really know, and he was like, ‘What is it?’ and I told him, and he said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t be carrying that around.’ And I said, ‘Well, there’s my card saying I’ve done the training and it’s not illegal. If you want to take some to test it, you’re quite welcome, but leave me with the other two vials in case something happens.’

Andrew (M, early 40s, Vic, non-prescribed opioids) also describes explaining to police what take-home naloxone is used for. According to Andrew, he is no longer questioned by police about it. (Read his personal story here)

I get stopped a lot for carrying a backpack. I do a lot of weird hours and the [police] might see me on the streets three or four times on four different sides of town. They pull me over and have a look through my bag to see if there’s any contraband. They ask you if you’re carrying any sharps, so I tell them straight out, ‘Yes, and I have a naloxone kit’ […] A lot of them have pulled me over and I’ve explained to them that it reverses effects of opiates. I’ve got a card saying I’ve been trained in it and I’m allowed to have it and they leave me alone and no hassles after that.

Likewise, Gabrielle (F, late 40s, Vic, non- prescribed opioids) was searched by police who ‘didn’t worry’ about her naloxone after she explained what it was. (Read her personal story here)

I do have a [criminal] record and […] I was on the side of the road in a car when the police stopped, and they ended up searching the whole car. They [saw the naloxone in my bag] and asked what it was. Because I’ve got two pieces of paper in there, one of them is how to give naloxone, so when they saw that, they just put it away. They didn’t worry about it any more […] They thought they were on to something at first and then realised it wasn’t anything illegal and I had literature in there […] so when they saw that it was an actual naloxone kit, they sort of put it down and, by that stage, they already knew that the only things in there were naloxone ampoules.