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Duluth police get Narcan boost

Officials credit Narcan, the fast-acting opioid overdose antidote, with saving as many as 57 lives in the area since Duluth police officers began carrying the substance two years ago.

Lexi Reed Holtum, executive director of the Steve Rummler Hope Network, discusses Narcan with officials at the Public Safety Building on Monday. Narcan reverses effects of an opioid overdose. Each kit contains three doses because multiple doses may administered if necessary. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Lexi Reed Holtum, executive director of the Steve Rummler Hope Network, discusses Narcan with officials at the Public Safety Building on Monday. Narcan reverses effects of an opioid overdose. Each kit contains three doses because multiple doses may administered if necessary. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

Officials credit Narcan, the fast-acting opioid overdose antidote, with saving as many as 57 lives in the area since Duluth police officers began carrying the substance two years ago.

A donation announced Tuesday should ensure that regional law enforcement agencies don't soon run out.

The Duluth Police Department was awarded 300 Narcan kits from the Steve Rummler Hope Network, a Twin Cities nonprofit addiction-awareness group operating with grant funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

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One dose of Narcan. Tyler Schank / DNT

Lt. Jeff Kazel said the kits will be distributed as needed to police across the three-county region covered by the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

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"We're already getting requests from the Iron Range. It's going to go out to a lot of other agencies," said Kazel, the task force commander. "We hope it lasts a long time."

Duluth has seen 375 opioid overdoses since 2013 - 39 of them fatal - according to department statistics through the end of March. The number went from just 17 in 2013 to 150 last year.

Statewide, Minnesota saw 395 opioid-related deaths in 2016, the most recent year for which official statistics are available. The state Department of Health reported that to be an 18 percent jump from 2015.

Narcan, also known by the generic name naloxone, has been widely praised by first responders and health officials for its rapid effectiveness. Numerous law enforcement, fire and ambulance crews throughout the region have began carrying the drug in recent years.

Lexi Reed Holtum lost her fiance, Rummler, to an opioid overdose nearly seven years ago. She now serves as the director of the nonprofit in his name.

Reed Holtum said Duluth was one of 40 cities, counties, tribes and treatment providers to receive resources for opioid recovery, treatment and prevention. She said an emphasis has been placed on more widely distributing Narcan.

"It's a benign drug," she said. "The only thing that naloxone does is bind with the receptors in an individual's brain and push the opioid off of those receptors, allowing that individual to take a breath. When someone overdoses on an opioid, what happens to them is they literally forget to take an inhalation in."

The donation actually contains 900 doses in the form of a nasal spray. But officials are placing three doses in each kit on the recommendation of medical experts, who have cited the emergence of more potent opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, which can require multiple doses to counteract.

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Since first receiving Narcan in May 2016, Duluth had encountered some challenges in replenishing its supply, often turning to churches and other community groups for help.

Police Chief Mike Tusken said the Rummler donation provides a much-needed boost. He said that while police have largely been saddled with the opioid epidemic, the solution would require a "three-legged stool" - with enforcement, treatment and education all playing roles.

"In order to get to treatment, you have to survive the addiction," Tusken said. "People are overdosing. You don't get another chance if you don't survive being an overdose victim."

One issue with the Narcan supply is that it has a two-year expiration date, requiring replacement if it goes unused. But Reed Holtum said her organization will be there in the future to keep local officers equipped.

"We hope they don't need to use all 300," she said, "but if they do we'll give them more."

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Three hundred Narcan kits were donated to the Duluth Police Department by the Steve Rummler Hope Network through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Three hundred Narcan kits were donated to the Duluth Police Department by the Steve Rummler Hope Network through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

Related Topics: POLICEHEALTH
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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