This week the Rice County Sheriff’s Department added another tool to its kit combating the tragic effects of drug abuse.
Northfield Hospital has donated doses of naloxone hydrochloride, or Narcan, a powerful opioid antagonist, to sheriff’s officers to use when responding to drug overdose calls.
According to the federal Food & Drug Administration, Narcan can counter the depressive effects of an opioid — heroin or Oxycontin, for example — within minutes.
Minutes matter. During an overdose from opiates, a user’s pupils dilate, and the user will quickly fall unconscious as breathing slows. Eventually, the body’s respiratory system shuts down completely, killing the user.
If administered in time, Narcan completely reverses that process. Before 2014, only medical professionals in a clinical setting were allowed to administer Narcan. Last May, the state Legislature passed “Steve’s Law,” named for Steve Rummler, a Twin Cities man who died of a heroin overdose in 2011, the first time he had ever used the drug after struggling for years with chronic back pain and opiate addiction.
Because of the legislation, law enforcement is now allowed to carry and administer Narcan. The law also allows anyone to get a “third party” prescription for Narcan to use on another person, for example, a parent with a child combating drug addiction. Unlike methadone, for example, Narcan has no pharmacological effects except on those who use opiates.
Northfield EMS staff already carry Narcan, and in the last five years, they’ve administered it 52 times in responding to drug overdose calls throughout the region.
That’s 52 lives saved. It’s also a stark reminder that drug abuse is not a small problem here — the number represents more than 10 possible overdoses a year in the area since 2009.
In the rural areas of our county, often the first on the scene is the Rice County Sheriff’s Department. Overdose from opioids is 45 percent higher in rural areas compared with urban, according the Center for Disease Control.
That’s a statistic our sheriff’s officers can change for the better. Right now.