ST. PAUL, Minn. - Much of the money approved to put a life-saving medicine in the hands of emergency first responders in Minnesota still hasn’t been spent, according to records obtained by KARE 11 Investigates and interviews with local officials.
"It’s a crime. People are dying,” says Michon Jenkin, the mother of an overdose victim.
In an attempt to combat the growing epidemic of overdose deaths due to heroin and other opiates, Minnesota lawmakers approved nearly $300,000 last year to train and equip police officers and other first responders with Narcan. That’s the brand name for Naloxone, a medication that can reverse an overdose of heroin and other prescription painkillers.
Paramedics already carry the medicine, but in situations where minutes matter police officers and firefighters often arrive first.
An investigation by KARE 11 has found that some local agencies – including some in the Twin Cities metro – still haven’t spent a dime of the money that could save lives.
“He needs Narcan”
Star Selleck discovered her son Ian unconscious on the kitchen floor in their Edina home.
“I gave him two quick breaths and called 911,” she recalled.
When an Edina Police officer arrived, Selleck, a registered nurse, knew exactly what might save him.
“He needs Narcan! He needs Narcan,” she says she yelled at the officer.
“And he looked at me and said, ‘Star, I don’t have Narcan,” she said.
But when her son needed it in 2009, first responders responders like police officers couldn’t legally carry or administer it.
Without an immediate dose of the life-saving drug, Ian didn’t survive.
“I can never answer for sure,” said Ian’s mother, still wondering whether the heroin overdose antidote could have saved him. “But we would have had a better chance, we would have had a fighting chance.”
That's why Ian’s mother and other parents who have lost children fought for “Steve’s Law.” It’s named after Steve Rummler, one of the many casualties of the heroin epidemic in Minnesota.
The first step was to make it legal for first responders and average citizens to use Naloxone in emergencies.
The parents of overdose victims didn’t stop there. Last year, they convinced Minnesota lawmakers to approve nearly $300,000 to put Naloxone in the hands of first responders statewide.
"We thought getting them funding would move it along so they could carry it,” said Michon Jenkin, who lost her 29-year-old daughter Ashley to a prescription painkiller overdose in 2013.
Money hasn’t been spent
But even as overdose deaths continue to soar, a KARE 11 investigation reveals that much of the money that was supposed to equip first responders with the life-saving drug still hasn’t been spent.
In February, a man overdosed on heroin near Bemidji. Sheriff’s deputies responded, but they weren’t carrying Naloxone. Records show it hadn’t been purchased yet.
Even though state funding is available, many first responders still don’t carry the life-saving medicine. For example, in Minneapolis and St. Paul police officers don’t carry it. Neither do sheriff’s deputies in Ramsey and Washington counties.
In fact, records show that even though $70,000 was earmarked last year to provide Naloxone in the Twin Cities Metro Emergency Medical Services Region, so far none of it has been spent.
"And not a penny has been spent? I have a problem with that,” Jenkin said when KARE 11 told her about our findings.
"It’s a crime. People are dying,” she told us.
What’s causing the delay?
Critics say they would understand the delay if the training took too much time or if Naloxone was too hard to use. But trainers at the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation say training only takes about 30 minutes and it's free for people and agencies that can’t afford it.
"It’s incredibly easy to use,” said Dr. Paul Satterlee, an emergency room physician who helped write last year's bill.
Unless authorities act quickly to equip more first responders with Naloxone, Dr. Satterlee believes more lives will be lost.
“It’s a rapidly increasing problem and the more delay the more lives will be lost,” he said.
We wanted to ask Metro EMS Regional Coordinator Ron Robinson why the Twin Cities area hadn’t even started to spend the money that the families of overdose victims had convinced lawmakers to approve. He declined to be interviewed.
In an email, Robinson said no agencies in the metro area had even asked for funding yet.
That suddenly changed late Tuesday afternoon when the Minneapolis Fire Department announced it will begin carrying Narcan effective immediately.
"This is one of those things where minutes matter,” said Satterlee.
Experts say getting Naloxone into the hands of first responders is especially important in rural areas because they may be on the scene much faster than paramedics.
In the metro area, several police departments say that since paramedics usually arrive quickly, their officers don’t need it.
That’s what Edina Police told KARE 11, even though that’s where Ian Selleck died. Remember, the police officer arriving first on the scene didn’t carry Naloxone, the medicine that might have saved him.
"I’m just begging communities to please step up,” said State Representative Dave Baker (R-Willar), whose son, Dan, was also a victim of the overdose crisis.
"If I can just really implore those communities out there that think that they’ve already got this covered, no you don’t,” Baker said.
“Tell me that when you don’t have any more deaths in your community,” he said.
Other parents who deal with the same pain want to know why some officials in Minnesota aren't doing more to save lives.
"There’s a medication that can save somebody’s life and it isn’t being carried,” said a tearful Jenkin. “And another family can go through this, and it will happen.”
There are eight EMS regions in Minnesota. They have until next year to spend the money or it goes back into the general fund.
Tuesday’s sudden announcement that the Minneapolis Fire department will start carrying Narcan means that some of the $70,000 earmarked for the metro area eventually will be spent to reimburse the city.
The Executive Director for the West Central region, Mark McCabe tells KARE 11 the region signed contracts in December with the Minnesota Department of Health which administers the Naloxone funding. He hopes to begin using the $22,000 allocated for that region this month. And in Bemidji, where a man died earlier this year, Beltrami County deputies started carrying Naloxone last week.
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