Sheriff, senator push overdose antidote

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

By Jenna Ross

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

A state senator and a sheriff have teamed up to put a powerful antidote to drug overdoses in the hands of law enforcement amid a wave of heroin deaths.

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At a news conference Tuesday, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and state Sen. Chris Eaton argued that naloxone, which can quickly reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, could be key to cutting down on a growing number of fatalities.

“This is really a simple solution to a terrible problem,” said Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, whose daughter died in 2007 of a heroin overdose.

Eaton plans to introduce a bill that would allow police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters to administer naloxone, also known by the trade name Narcan. Right now, advanced medical training is required, so paramedics — but not police officers — can use the antidote.

“Oftentimes, it’s law enforcement who’s the first responder, who answers the 911 call to an overdose,” Stanek said. “Narcan buys us critical time to get the person breathing again until the paramedics and EMS arrive.”

In 2012, 37 people died in Hennepin County of heroin overdoses — compared with six in 2006. So far this year, 48 people have died.

In Wisconsin, a yearlong pilot program will train firefighters to use naloxone. It’s been done in New York and Massachusetts, where cities have reported decreases in overdose deaths since officers and others were allowed to administer the drug.

If the bill were to pass in Minnesota, it’d be up to each law enforcement agency to decide whether to carry naloxone, Stanek said. His deputies would do so, he said, and he’s heard from other sheriffs who are enthusiastic.

Eaton also would like to make naloxone available to group homes, sober houses and parents. She is working with two state agencies to finalize the bill’s language.

Stanek and Eaton pushed back on the suggestion that making naloxone more widely available would encourage people to use heroin.

Teenagers and young people “don’t think it’ll happen to them,” Eaton said. “We’re talking about our children.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services