State Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Tuesday that she intends to introduce a 911 Good Samaritan + Naloxone bill “as soon as I can.”
The proposed legislation would seek to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths by 1) providing immunity to those who call 911 in good faith to save a life, and 2) increasing law-enforcement and public access to naloxone (brand name Narcan), an antidote to opioids (including prescription painkillers and heroin). State law currently prohibits anyone other than medical professionals or paramedics from administering the drug.
“This is really a simple solution to a terrible problem,” said Eaton, who lost her daughter in 2007 from heroin overdose.
Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek, appearing with Eaton at the press conference, gave strong support for the legislation. Stanek cited a 700 percent increase in the number of heroin overdose deaths in Hennepin County (from 6 in 2008 to 48 so far this year). The heroin is pure, powerful, inexpensive and readily available, he said, and an easy substitute for those who got their start on prescription painkillers.
“This is important because oftentimes it’s law-enforcement who is the first responder – who answers the 911 call to an overdose – and seconds can make a difference in saving someone’s life,” Stanek said. “A lack of oxygen to the brain can occur within 2 to 4 minutes after an overdose due to not breathing. And I want to make sure my deputies and other law-enforcement officers are equipped with this life-saving drug.”
Stanek said he also supports allowing physicians to prescribe naloxone to someone “who may be in a position to assist another individual during an overdose,” including family members who are concerned about a loved one’s risk.
Drug acts within a minute
Naloxone works by blocking opioid receptors, which produces instant withrawal symptoms. The drug acts within a minute and can last for about 45 minutes. A person who is overdosing may need multiple doses, and still needs emergency care even after the drug is administered.
Anticipating arguments that the measure might drive up use, Eaton said. “I see it as the same argument against birth control. I don’t think people are more likely to use heroin or have sex if there’s a way to prevent pregnancies or death.”
Said Stanek: “Why should 48 people have died here in Hennepin County already this year from an opioid overdose?” We all have “brothers and sisters, moms and dads, aunts and uncles that would like to see the individual at the Christmas table, the Thanksgiving table, birthdays and holidays.”
The costs of administration were not yet known. And some details, including what to do about “good Samaritans” who have outstanding warrants, were yet to be worked out. Eaton said that an order for protection, for example, would be carried out.
About 19 states and the District of Columbia have some form of the law, and Stanek said jurisdictions are reporting success. Police officers in Quincy, Mass., for example, have reversed 188 heroin overdoses since 2011, he said.
In Minnesota, the bill will be known as “Steve’s Law,” named for Steve Rummler, an Edina native who died of a heroin overdose in 2011 after first becoming addicted to his prescription painkillers. It was the first and only time he used heroin, said his fiancée, Lexi Reed Holtum.
Holtum, of Eden Prairie, is vice president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group founded after Rummler’s death. She said that her fiancé was with others when he died but that they were reluctant to call 911.
“If we can get this bill passed, other people will not have to experience the incredibly awful grief and loss that we went through,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “There are almost no words for it.”
Eaton said she knew something was wrong with her daughter, Ariel Eaton-Willson, but never guessed that it was heroin. Her daughter was in her car in a Burger King parking lot in Brooklyn Center when she overdosed, Eaton said – and she was not alone. The young man with her wasted precious moments stashing needles and trying to get rid of evidence, and never did call 911. Instead, a police officer in the drive-through noticed the commotion and intervened. Narcan was administered once she got to the emergency room, but it was too late.
Eaton said her daughter was “very caring,” that she worked with mentally ill adults in Anoka, and was the “go-to person for all her friends’ kids.” Her daughter’s struggles with depression and lack of access to care also contributed to her death, she said, grimly acknowledging that “ultimately she made a bad choice and paid the ultimate [price].
“And I miss her dearly.”