by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
A Brooklyn Center lawmaker is looking to give heroin overdose victims a shot at life, a second chance arriving too late to save her daughter.
Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, plans to introduce legislation allowing law enforcement, families and even people on the street to possess naloxone hydrochloride, or Narcan, an antidote for opiate overdose that can provide vital minutes for heroin overdose victims.
By temporarily warding off possible asphyxiation, Narcan can provide a respite from death for further medical treatment.
It’s “a simple solution to a terrible problem,” Eaton said of the legislation. Her 23-year-old daughter, Ariel Eaton-Willson, died in a Burger King parking lot in Brooklyn Center in 2007 from a heroin overdose. (Editor’s note: Read Eaton’s story of losing her daughter here.)
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and Eaton appeared at a state Capitol press conference Tuesday, Dec. 10, to promote the pending legislation.
Heroin deaths in Hennepin County are running at an all-time high, with 48 deaths recorded this year. Since 2011, 107 overdose deaths have been reported.
Stanek described the proposed legislation as “life saving” because it would allow all of his 340 sworn officers the opportunity to administer Narcan, which can be injected or sprayed. Other law enforcement agencies would likely make Narcan available to their officers, he added.
Administration of the drug is currently limited to emergency medical technicians, Stanek said.
Eaton, a nurse by profession, wants Narcan readily obtainable — “to have it out there,” she said. She dismisses the idea that by making an antidote available, more people would be willing to try heroin, perceiving a remedy is close at hand. Eaton said that is the same kind of logic critics of birth control had made.
“If we can get this out in the community, we can save lives,” Eaton said.
Stanek and Eaton described the drug scene in Minnesota as volatile and toxic, since high-grade heroin can be purchased cheaply, often by the young, blinded by a false sense of invulnerability.
Eaton spoke of her daughter, who was perhaps driven to drugs from depression.
“I was not aware she was using heroin,” Eaton said.
“I knew something was wrong,” she said.
Although her daughter did receive an antidote — a police officer noticed the commotion in the parking lot when the person her daughter was with franticly attempted to stash evidence, Eaton said — the antidote was given too late.
“I miss her dearly,” Eaton said. “Ultimately, she made a bad choice.”
Hennepin County has taken steps to combat the heroin scourge.
For many drug abusers the gateway to heroin is prescription drugs, Stanek said. A prescription drug collection program, in which residents can turn in unwanted, expired prescription drugs at drop-off points for disposal, has disposed of tons of unwanted prescription drugs, Stanek explained.
In addition to making Narcan more accessible, Eaton also proposes to include a provision in her bill providing immunity from prosecution for those calling 911 to report a drug overdose. Stanek said he would need to see the final language of the immunity provision to know whether he could support it.
Tim Budig is at [email protected].
(Editor’s note: Jim Steinhagen, executive director of addiction treatment center Hazelden in Plymouth, gave comments and advice on helping those with drug addictions. Read more here.)