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Life saving act : Carrying Narcan in squads proves its worth in Montevideo

MONTEVIDEO -- Montevideo's Police Department was among the first in Greater Minnesota to make Narcan kits designed to save the lives of opiate overdose victims standard equipment in its squad cars.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune Officer Chuck Beery (left) and Police Chief Adam Christopher of the Montevideo Police Department show the medical kit each officer carries in his or her squad. The Narcan applicator that Beery holds is identical to the one he used to save the life of a 20-year-old woman who had overdosed.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune Officer Chuck Beery (left) and Police Chief Adam Christopher of the Montevideo Police Department show the medical kit each officer carries in his or her squad. The Narcan applicator that Beery holds is identical to the one he used to save the life of a 20-year-old woman who had overdosed.

MONTEVIDEO - Montevideo's Police Department was among the first in Greater Minnesota to make Narcan kits designed to save the lives of opiate overdose victims standard equipment in its squad cars.

It's also now among the first in rural Minnesota to record a "life saved" thanks to the kit and accompanying training to use it.

RELATED: Opiates part of large mix of abused drugs in region

Police Chief Adam Christopher said he doesn't believe a 20-year-old female overdose victim would be alive today were it not for Officer Chuck Beery's timely administration of the anti-opiate known as naloxone on her. "If we didn't have Narcan, I'd be surprised,'' said the chief.

Officer Beery responded to a call of a fentanyl overdose at a Montevideo residence just after noon on Sept. 10. A caller at the residence reported the overdose and Beery, already on patrol, reached the residence before an ambulance crew could.

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"Since he told us it was fentanyl, I grabbed the Narcan,'' said Beery. He was soon joined by Chippewa County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Shamla at the house.

The woman - a young mother - was lying unresponsive on the floor of the house. Her skin was blue.

Beery said he could not find any signs of respiration or a pulse.

A three-year veteran of the department, Beery had trained with other officers and was well prepared to assemble the three-piece kit and spray the anti-opiate mist into the respiratory system of the victim. He did so as the mother of the victim and the caller watched in fear.

Beery saw no immediate reaction, and applied an automated external defibrillator to the victim. The AED showed a heartbeat, and as it did so Beery said the victim opened her eyes. Two minutes later and she was talking.

There was really no guesswork in this situation, since the caller had told Beery the woman had smoked a fentanyl patch. He also knew that the young woman had a history of drug abuse.

But even without any of this information, Beery knew that he could safely administer the naloxone. It does no harm even if the medical emergency is not related to opiates.

"There's no better thing than what officer Beery did,'' said Shelly Elkington of Montevideo. She attributes the death of her 26-year-old daughter, Casey Jo Schulte, in September 2015 to an opiate addiction. It made Elkington an advocate for bringing Narcan to first responders. She had initially approached Chief Christopher about equipping the department, and she trained the officers in how to administer it.

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Elkington volunteers with the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation to make Narcan kits and training available. She's familiar with other cases where Narcan's availability has saved lives.

"To hear of it happening in our own community, it's special,'' said Elkington.

She's already reached out to the mother of the young overdose victim. The mother has told her how thankful she is for what Beery did, she said. (The victim declined a request by the Tribune for comment. )

A Minnesota law makes callers immune from prosecution when they report an overdose, even if the opiates were illegally possessed. Lexi Reed Holtum, executive director of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, credits the law with saving lives by making it more likely that help will be called.

She said the new law is also helping change the "stigma'' sometimes attached to helping the addicted. It requires a paradigm shift to help the addicted in cases where criminal drug use may be present, she pointed out.

"We have to rise above that a little bit,'' said Chief Christopher. He noted that the young woman now has an opportunity to change her life for the better. "And it's not just about her,'' he added. Her infant child and family have been spared the sorrow of losing a loved one, he explained.

The chief also pointed out that not all of the potential opiate overdose victims are breaking laws. Most opiate deaths are due to the accidental overdose of prescription painkillers. In one case in Montevideo a few years earlier, a woman who recently had surgery had accidentally overdosed on her pain medication. She was saved by CPR and being airlifted to care, he noted.

The 20-year-old woman saved by Officer Beery is the second life-saving act he's performed while on duty. He previously received a life-saving award from the city after performing CPR and saving the life of a man who had a medical emergency while battling cancer.

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Beery said he felt good about being able to save the 20-year-old woman. It's all part of being a police officer. "That's why I enjoy this job,'' he said.

And it is a job: Immediately after he saved the life, Beery returned to patrol duty, he said.

Recognition is coming, however. Representative Dave Baker, R-Willmar, will present life-saving awards to Officers Beery and Shamla on Oct. 17.

Along with authoring and promoting what is now known as "Steve's Law,'' Baker helped make possible $285,000 in state funding that has helped provide training and Narcan kits to first responders across the state.

Baker lost his son Dan at age 25 in March 2011 due to an opiate addiction.

Baker said he learned about the life-saving ability of Narcan when he asked medical staff the question: "What could have saved my son's life?''

He has since heard of many lives saved by Narcan. In one day, Narcan saved the lives of seven of eight people who had overdosed on opiates on a northern Minnesota reservation earlier this year, he said.

Baker said he is looking forward to awarding the officers involved in saving the young woman's life, and congratulating the community of Montevideo for recognizing the need to equip emergency personnel with Narcan.

Related Topics: CHIPPEWA COUNTYPOLICE
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