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Session equips rural first responders with tools to treat drug overdose victims

Mary and Dave Baker, whose son Dan died of an accidental overdose, experiment with a test model of auto-injector of naloxone during a training session Wednesday in Willmar. Naloxone can counteract the deadly effects of opioids, including prescription pain pills. Carolyn Lange | Tribune

WILLMAR — Dave and Mary Baker, of Willmar, long ago learned the toughest lesson a parent can endure when their son died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011.

But on Wednesday the Bakers joined a room full of regional first responder educators in Willmar to learn another lesson — how to administer a drug called naloxone that could save the lives of people experiencing an overdose from opioids such as heroin and oxycodone.

“You guys are here because our son, Dan, passed away,” said Baker, who was elected last year to the House District 17B seat and authored a bill this year to allocate $290,000 to distribute naloxone to first responders.

“And you’re here because you want to save lives,” Baker said. “You have no idea how personal this is to us, but know it’s appreciated and we love you because of it.”

Naloxone has been available in hospital emergency rooms and in many ambulances for years, but quick and easy access to the antidote has been proven to save lives, said Dr. Paul Satterlee, who works in the emergency department at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and trains people to administer the drug.

The “train the trainer” session in Willmar was the first held in rural Minnesota during which about a dozen directors of first responder units learned the basics of how the drug works and how to use it.

They will now train volunteer first responders throughout communities in the southern and central part of the state.

“You have the tools that you need to be the heroes you are,” said Lexi Reed Holtum, vice president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation.

The foundation was instrumental in passing “Steve’s Law” that allows first responders and firefighters to administer the drug.

The law also makes it easier for people to call 911 to report an overdose without fear of getting into legal trouble.

Rummler, who was engaged to Reed Holtum, died of a heroin overdose in 2011. A friend who was with him didn’t seek help.

“I’ve heard it in the emergency room: They didn’t want to call out of fear of getting in trouble,” Satterlee said.

Michon Jenkin, a volunteer with the foundation who helped with the training session Wednesday, said she lost her only child to a heroin overdose. Her daughter’s friend was on probation and did not want to risk calling for help.

The state funding, along with assistance from the foundation, also creates opportunities for the public to be trained in how to use naloxone and obtain a kit containing auto-injection doses similar to an EpiPen.

The kits can cost about $500 on the open market but are available for free when distributed during a training session provided by the foundation, which can obtain the kits for about $15, said Reed Holtum.

Satterlee said he would like to see the naloxone kits as common in homes as EpiPens that are used for people with allergies.

When identifying an overdose, Satterlee said victims will have shallow breathing, be very sleepy and have small pupils.

Satterlee said naloxone can be 90 to 100 percent effective in counteracting an overdose, unless the victim’s heart has already stopped.

He said there is no harm in giving naloxone if an individual is not having an opioid overdose and there are no side effects from the drug.

Citing figures from the Minnesota Department of Health, Reed Holtum said from 2010-2014 there were 285 incidents in Kandiyohi County where an overdose was reversed.

During that same time period, she said, there were six drug-related deaths.

While heroin carries a harsh stigma, an addiction to opioids is often linked with drugs prescribed by doctors.

“Prescription pills are really the problem fueling our heroin overdoses,” said Reed Holtum.

She said in a one-year time span, there were 55,911 prescriptions for controlled substances — painkillers — issued in Kandiyohi County.

With a population of about 42,000, that’s more than one bottle per person, she said.

Baker’s son had become addicted to painkillers after an injury, which then led to heroin use.

“When I called the medical examiner about a week after we buried our son, I wanted to understand ... what in the world happened for us to lose our son so fast?” said Baker. “And we wanted to know what could have saved him.”

To now be part of a training session that will bring naloxone to small-town first responders is a “real aha moment,” he said.

“To say, ‘Oh my God, we can actually save people.’ And to see it getting out in rural Minnesota makes we want to say, ‘This is a phenomenal moment and I can’t believe it’s happening.’”

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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