Minneapolis police to be equipped with overdose-reversal drug

Doses of naloxone hydrochloride
Doses of naloxone hydrochloride, also called Narcan, are displayed on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.
Toby Talbot | AP 2013

Minneapolis police want every officer to be trained by the end of the year in how to administer a medication called Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose. The program is rolling out as the city faces a big increase in reported overdoses in the first few months of 2018.

Fifteen Minneapolis officers were the first to learn how to administer Narcan, which is also known as naloxone, at a training at the American Indian Center in south Minneapolis. They'll be followed by about 100 more officers in the next two weeks.

At the beginning of the training, the officers were shown body cam footage taken in February by an officer in north Minneapolis. The officer was at another call when a report of an overdose came in. He found a woman unconscious in the passenger seat of a car. Her companion said she'd been using heroin.

The officer performed chest compressions until paramedics arrived and revived her with Narcan.

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That was one of more than 200 overdoses that were reported to police in Minneapolis in just the first four months of this year. The police department said that's a significant increase over about 250 annual overdoses the city has seen in recent years.

Mayor Jacob Frey said equipping officers is just the first step in a comprehensive response to opioids in the city, which he says will include expanding access to treatment options. He also plans to work with the city's legislative and congressional delegations to access funding to fight the epidemic.

"We in this city need to be taking action directly because it is tearing families apart," Frey said. "It has become a crisis and right now it is time for action."

Opioids are the family of drugs that include everything from heroin to prescription painkillers like Oxycontin. They can kill by shutting down the user's respiratory system, although Narcan can reverse that.

Minneapolis had long resisted equipping officers with Narcan, arguing that firefighters and paramedics are typically the first to respond to calls of medical emergencies.

Due to the spike in overdoses and the fact that officers are already running into overdose victims in the course of their work, Chief Medaria Arradondo said equipping officers with Narcan was the right choice.

"Sanctity of life is a cornerstone for what we do in the Minneapolis Police Department, it's how we view our relationship with our communities," Arradondo said. "This is an extension of that."

The cost of outfitting with Narcan in nasal spray form is about $75 for each officer. Arradondo said officers will also be told during the trainings about the 2014 law that grants some immunity to people who call 911 to report an overdose.

"It's about saving a life, so that's what they're going to be focused on," Arradondo said of officers.

Minneapolis is following in the footsteps of dozens of other law enforcement agencies around the state which have equipped officers with Narcan. The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office reports that the county as a whole had at least 175 overdose deaths last year.

The police department's stats show that the 3rd precinct, which covers south Minneapolis, is the hardest hit in the city. About a quarter of all overdoses happen in these neighborhoods, with a concentration of overdoses reported north of Lake Street.

The Minneapolis American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue sees the impact of the opioid epidemic on a daily basis. In response, Executive Director Mary LaGarde-Agnew said they've created a new program called Bright Beginnings that helps young mothers coping with drug dependency.

It "provides opportunities for moms to learn about American Indian culture, learn about traditions, have that support system with other moms who have experienced chemical dependency," LaGarde-Agnew said. "Babies are being born healthy — it's just an incredible program."

The center has served south Minneapolis since the 1970s, and hosts everything from pow wows to political rallies. Because so many people come through the center, they also face the prospect that someone could overdose there. So they've trained all staff to administer Narcan, including LaGarde-Agnew, who has a little purple pouch of the medication on her desk.

Only recently, staff started locking the center's bathroom doors after someone overdosed in a bathroom. A staff member used Narcan to reverse the person's overdose before police or firefighters arrived.

"As a community, we're trying to find solutions. We don't know what they are," LaGarde-Agnew said. "If we knew what they were, we wouldn't have this problem, I wouldn't have Narcan in my office. But this is what we have right now."