Salem Health, law officers partner to save lives

Polk County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Ball prepares a naloxone dose.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
Polk County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Ball prepares a naloxone dose.

POLK COUNTY — In April 2017, a 25-year-old woman went to the Polk County Jail to turn herself in on a warrant. Just minutes before, she has taken a large amount of heroin.

“Literally just before she pushed the button to turn herself in,” said Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton. “We got her in booking and realized that she started to show signs of an OD (overdose).”

In the past, jail deputies would have done CPR until medics arrive, but thanks to a partnership with Salem Health West Valley, they had another tool: Naloxone, the drug that counteracts opioid overdoses.

The woman was alive for medics to continue treatment and take her to the hospital.

That was the case for four more overdoses that Polk County deputies responded to since December 2017. One involved a 23-year-old woman who had took meth laced with fentanyl. The other three were overdoses on prescriptions involving a 23-year-old man, a 53-year-old man, and a 15-year-old girl, who overdosed intentionally.

“The parents called and wanted help because they found her like that,” Garton said. “We happened to be two minutes away.”

For Bruce Rodgers, the CEO of Salem Health West Valley Hospital in Dallas, the decision to support the Naloxone program was a no-brainer.

In spring 2017, Garton approached the hospital’s vice president of community benefit program about subsidizing providing patrol and jail deputies with doses of naloxone.

“Once we talked about and heard about it, we were instantly enthusiastic and thought that would be great,” Rodgers said. “It seemed like a great way to partner with the community.”

Rodgers said the hospital will sponsor the program again this year. Garton said it costs about $100 per deputy to carry two doses.

“Our view of the world is that we are trying to support people’s health to better the health and welfare of the community,” Rodgers said. “If you are not alive when you arrive, we can’t save you.”

Also known as Narcan, naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of opioids, and is harmless if given to a person not suffering from an overdose. The doses provided to the sheriff’s office come with an atomizer that sprays the drug up the nose. Deputies go through training to set up and administer the drug, but don’t have to have much further training besides recognizing the symptoms of overdose.

Garton said the amount of medical expertise required is about the same as is needed with an AED, which deputies have in their patrol cars.

“If they are unconscious, shallow breathing, and people are saying they overdosed, then why not give it to them?” Garton said. “It’s better to have that kind of tool. You don’t have to have a high level of medical training to provide these things. It’s very minimal to potentially save a life.”

Rodgers said what law enforcement and health care workers see in Polk County follows the national trend of opioid abuse. Garton said his deputies have only had a few cases involving fentanyl, a particularly strong opioid, but believes it will only increase as those selling drugs mix it with methamphetamine or other narcotics.

“We’ve had more fentanyl cases, not a lot. Very few in the grand scheme of things, but we didn’t have any in the past, so it’s making its way here,” he said. “They buy what they think is meth and they take a little bigger dose than they usually take, but then it also has fentanyl in it without them knowing, and that can cause some significant damage.”

Sgt. Jason Ball said city police department officers also carry naloxone with them.

Sometimes that extra time naloxone provides is critical as medics don’t always arrive before police, Garton said.

“There have been medics who have said if we wouldn’t have given Narcan at the time — they can’t say for sure if that person would have died — but it wouldn’t have been pretty,” Garton said. “I’m glad we have it available.”

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