Hospitals Partner with Law Enforcement to Stem Opioid Epidemic
In Minnesota, there is a deadly epidemic that touches more families and communities every year than homicides and car wrecks. It reaches small towns and big cities. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender or ethnicity. The use and abuse of prescription opioid painkillers is a serious problem with significant consequences.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 572 Minnesotans died in 2015 as a result of drug overdoses, with 216 deaths related to prescription opioid medications and 114 related to heroin.
In Washington County, local medical professionals and law enforcement officers knew that drastic action was needed to save lives. Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office came together to reduce accidental overdoses by expanding the use of naloxone, a drug commonly referred to by its brand name, Narcan.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association are among the organizations that have endorsed the expanded use of naloxone to reverse and reduce opioid overdoses. The effectiveness of the compound is dependent on timing and accuracy of application, but it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save a person’s life in a matter of minutes. The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that between 1996 and June 2014, layperson administration of naloxone has saved the lives of more than 26,000 people in the U.S.
To make naloxone more widely available in their community, Lakeview emergency medical services (EMS) staff supply naloxone to Washington County licensed deputies and train them on how to administer the medication to patients in the event they are on the scene of an opioid overdose prior to the EMS team arriving.
“This partnership with our county sheriff’s office is important for our community and the health of our residents,” said Ted Wegleitner, Lakeview Hospital president and chief executive officer.
“Having our deputies trained to administer naloxone could be lifesaving for citizens,” said Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton. “In Washington County, we’re seeing prescription opiates being sold and possessed. Despite our proactive efforts to educate and enforce, we continue to see overdoses in our community.”
To supplement the law enforcement training program, Washington County has also opened three anonymous collection sites for people to turn in opioids and other prescription drugs. The anonymous drop-off locations include the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington County Cottage Grove Service Center and the Washington County Headwaters Service Center.
Throughout the state, Minnesota’s hospitals and health systems are working with local law enforcement, fire departments and community organizations to combat opioid abuse. Northfield Hospital, which has used naloxone more than 52 times in the past five years, recently donated the drug to the Rice County Sheriff’s Office. Mille Lacs Health System is working with the Onamia Police Department to ensure first responders have proper training for responding to an overdose.
While naloxone will reverse the effects of the drug overdose, this is a short-term action. The drug user will still need medical care for the overdose and, it is hoped, treatment or services for drug abuse.
Opioid use and related overdoses have become an increasing problem across Minnesota over the past 15 years. However, Minnesota’s hospitals continue to innovate and forge partnerships to combat this trend and provide safe, effective and affordable mental health care and substance abuse services to all Minnesotans.