With deadly overdoses surpassing auto crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, it’s good to see Minnesota legislators supporting naloxone bills moving quickly through committees.
Naloxone, known by the trade name Narcan, is an opioid antidote that gets people breathing again until emergency crews arrive. States using Narcan report thousands of lives saved, many of them young people.
Oddly, less buzz has swirled around the bill’s less-sexy but equally important twin. Minnesota’s Good Samaritan Law was introduced in concert with the naloxone bill last week. Supporters know that this pairing is the only way the lifesaving effort can work.
Because if you’re watching someone overdose, but you’re afraid to call 911, it doesn’t matter how much Narcan there is in the world.
Michon Jenkin was scheduled to speak Tuesday at the Capitol in “100 percent” support of Steve’s Law, also known as Minnesota’s Good Samaritan + naloxone legislation. The law was named after Steve Rummler, of Edina, who died of an opioid overdose in 2011.
Jenkin, of Savage, will share her story at the House Judiciary Committee later this week. It’s a nightmare of a story, but one that is growing increasingly familiar.
Jenkin’s daughter, Ashley Jenkin-Segal, died June 22, 2013, of an accidental prescription drug overdose. She was 29. Her boyfriend was with her at the time and he did call 911 — after she’d been dead for more than four hours.
“He was fearful because of the implications for himself,” Jenkin said of the man, who was on probation for drug-related offenses.
“We are all under the assumption that a person is going to do the right thing,” Jenkin said. “But, in Ashley’s case and many, many others, when there’s drugs involved, people are reluctant. What will happen to them? They let people die as a result.”
In fact, 2013 was the deadliest year on record for heroin-related deaths in Hennepin County, with 54 deaths as a result of heroin overdoses; most victims were with people when they died.
Many heroin users trace their addiction back to the household medicine cabinet; four out of five heroin addicts began with prescription pain pills.
Steve’s Law provides immunity to those who call 911 “in good faith to save a life,” and allows law-enforcement officials and the public to administer Narcan. The nonaddictive antidote, which can be injected or sprayed into the nose, has been used for years by paramedics and emergency room doctors in other states. One police department in Massachusetts reported a 95 percent success rate in saving patients by using the treatment.
Many victims are young people who have no idea how out-of-control they’re getting and how easy it is to get there. A study commissioned by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, released March 6, found “a remarkable lack of parental awareness and concern” regarding chemical use and addiction among youth. One in four homes, for example, reported having prescription painkillers in unlocked cabinets or in the open.
At least 14 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar Good Sam laws; about 17 states and the District of Columbia have naloxone laws. In Minnesota, the law is being carried by Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, in the House and Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center. Eaton’s 23-year-old daughter, Ariel, died from a heroin overdose in 2007.
Jenkin noticed a personality change in her daughter about a year before her death. “She hid it very well,” Jenkin said of Ashley, a massage therapist. Ashley’s downward spiral may have begun with anti-anxiety medication to calm her before flying. That was coupled with the likelihood of abundant access to drugs by her boyfriend, who suffered a broken back.
“Ashley was always, always trying to help other people,” Jenkin said. “That was Ashley’s personality — to help, to fix.” Jenkin has never met the boyfriend, who is now in jail on unrelated DUI charges.
Supporters of Steve’s Law vehemently deny that Narcan will encourage heroin use. “No person with the disease of addiction wants to be given Narcan,” said Lexi Reed Holtum, Steve Rummler’s fiancé and vice president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation.
“That’s because it puts the person into immediate withdrawal, which is something they avoid at all costs.”
Gavin Bart, director of the division of addiction medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center, agrees. “This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said. “This is to disallow information that is solely obtained as a result of a good faith call to see help.”
Nor will offering immunity impact arrest numbers, because typically few people are ever charged in the first place. “How can someone be charged beyond a shadow of a doubt with a crime for another person’s decision to use? We know there were people with Steve when he died,” Holtum said, “and no one was ever charged, which is very typical.”
Holtum knows that passage of Steve’s Law is only the beginning. The next step is partnering with law enforcement, public health officials and the public to create awareness about the law. That offers Jenkin some comfort.
Ashley, she said, “was the center of my life,” a special young woman who figure-skated and played piano, who loved to camp and cook.
“She, simply put, was adored,” Jenkin said. “Something really needs to be done to save lives, and Steve’s Law would bring that change.”
Follow Gail on Twitter: @grosenblum