This law will save lives — real soon

  • Article by: CARSON GARDNER
  • Updated: June 6, 2014 - 6:42 PM

Legislature was not thinking 100 percent clearly about naloxone.

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An overdose of opiates essentially makes the body forget to breathe. Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, works by blocking the brain receptors that opiates latch onto and helping the body “remember” to take in air.

Photo: Mel Evans • Associated Press,

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Emergency medical services, in my opinion, make people more important than profits or policies.

Of course, if profits aren’t made, businesses shut down. And if policies aren’t followed, as a routine, discipline breaks down. But it’s like Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He was a pretty knowledgeable guy — but when it came down to it, he believed in responsible rule-breaking. So do I.

Minnesota’s new naloxone law debacle, now in full bureaucratic flagrante delicto, is a classic example. EMS is about saving lives, right? And untreated narcotic overdose is about dying, right? And you can’t “recover” when you’re dead, right? The new naloxone law (SF 1900) will allow EMTs, law enforcement officers, emergency medical responders and public-spirited, compassionate private citizens — when trained — to give lifesaving naloxone at the scene of narcotic tragedy, to bring an overdose victim back “from the dead,” as it were, right?

So why did the Legislature decide that, despite having passed this wonderful, lifesaving law (which was signed by the governor in early May), it can’t be implemented — actually acted on — until Aug. 1? The medication is available. The syringes/prefills are there. The nasal atomizer units are readily obtainable. The gloves, alcohol wipes and CPR face shields are standard inventory. The carrying kits are already on the market. Education standards are long-developed, and medical/paramedical teachers/prescribers/directors are chomping at the bit to get the lives saved.

There is absolutely no good ethical or medical reason — not even a lukewarm, piddle-poor reason — for waiting two months while victims die of narcotic overdose, in homes and on the streets, just because the Legislature is too caught up in legislator-speak to realize that a law this critical should be implemented immediately. And the Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board — the agency responsible for making ambulance agencies in Minnesota effective lifesavers — is too timid to point out to the Legislature its costly mistake.

Fortunately, I work for the White Earth Nation, an Anishinaabe/Ojibwe First Nation whose sovereign boundaries are surrounded by northern Minnesota. I have been ordered by my sovereign-nation employer and legislature to “break the rules” on this issue. Thank God!

When our Anishinaabe nation’s legislators heard that the new naloxone law had been passed but that implementation had been delayed for two months — and when it was explained to them that our ambulance agency had already developed the essential academic-and-skills-teaching certification criteria, curriculum and inventory list for our White Earth Reservation Ambulance Service EMTs — our nation’s legislature met promptly in special session and proclaimed that emergency EMT administration of lifesaving naloxone to narcotic overdose victims would begin immediately on the White Earth Nation’s sovereign lands and by its duly-employed EMS professionals, complying with the need for curriculum, training, certification, documentation and an effective yearly refresher education plan.

EMT naloxone administration is now living law on our reservation home. That is how I break EMS rules — when they desperately need to be broken and when I am ordered, by leaders with common sense, to do so!

Come on, Minnesotans. Just because your legislators are not in session now doesn’t mean they can’t come back for 30 minutes and fix a mistake that will cost dozens, if not scores, of lives in the next couple of months, just because they didn’t ask and the regulatory board was too timid to tell them that a naloxone law, when legislated, is an immediate-use law, not a bureaucratic/regulatory limbo dance.

Minnesota citizens, do something!

 

Carson Gardner is a physician and medical director of the White Earth Reservation Ambulance Service.

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