For two months, Hennepin County sheriff's deputies have been forced to use defective applicators to administer the antidote that counters the effects of an opioid overdose.
Instead of spraying a mist of the medication naloxone into the nose, the applicator sends out a straight liquid stream. This can delay the medication's effectiveness by several hours.
Sheriff Rich Stanek repeatedly has asked Teleflex Medical, the company that supplies the devices, to replace the malfunctioning model. But each time they have returned a defective batch.
No one has died due to the defects. But with deaths from heroin and other opioids at epidemic levels in the county, Stanek said the need for proper working applicators is critical.
"It's a life saving tool used by my deputies and other law enforcement," he said. "The company isn't standing behind their product and getting the right device back in our hands."
Naloxone usually comes in spray form and works by blocking the receptors in the brain that take in the drugs and then kick-starting the respiratory system. Deputies used the medication to save seven people in the past several months, compared with two in 2015.
In an e-mail Wednesday, Teleflex spokeswoman Susan Denby said the company has been experiencing a temporary shortage of the nasal applicator. It has been notifying customers as the product becomes available and been releasing it since Dec. 12, she said.
In late October, Teleflex issued a recall on the applicator because it lacked a "fully atomized plume of the medication." The failure of the device to deliver the plume can lead to serious injury or death in certain emergency situations, according to the recall notice. Besides overdoses, the device also can be used for reversal of life threatening hypoglycemia and treatment of epileptic seizures.
The sheriff's office buys naloxone and the applicator from Hennepin County Medical Center, which received the recall notice. Stanek was angry Teleflex didn't directly notify his office. He said he believes nearly every police and fire department in the county is equipped with naloxone and nasal dispensers.
HCMC initially tried to work with Teleflex to obtain a new batch, but the company said it didn't know when it would arrive. The hospital suggested that Stanek deal directly with Teleflex, stressing public safety.
Stanek said he stressed to Teleflex the more than 100 opioid overdose deaths in Hennepin County last year, which will be a record-breaking total when all reports are compiled.
Teleflex sent 100 replacement devices last week, but they were from the same defective lot.
Stanek wrote a letter to Teleflex and local and national sheriff and police chief associations Tuesday to complain about the lack of action. He said he's "getting a little bit exasperated."
As a stopgap measure, his office tested the batch they received and more than 20 percent didn't spray mist or any medication at all. Some police departments, such as Minnetonka, have stopped using the devices.
"I don't want to pull the applicators off the streets," Stanek said. "But who the hell wants to take a chance with these?"
On Wednesday, Stanek's office received another 100 replacement devices. And again they were from a defective lot. Stanek said he immediately returned them to Teleflex.
"If you were a business that operated this way, you wouldn't be in business," he said. "My phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from agencies who didn't even know there was a recall. Why am I the one who is telling them?"
He knows that dozens of lives were saved by naloxone and the nasal applicator throughout the county last year. It's easy to train officers how to use it, he said.
Stanek is passionate about officers and firefighters using naloxone because he helped pass legislation allowing them to administer the medication. He fears the defective devices will discourage the police and fire departments who were on the fence about whether to let their personnel use naloxone.
Until working applicators are in hand, Stanek said anyone who receives Narcan from deputies will get another dose by injection from a paramedic at the scene.
"But what if the weather is bad and there is a delay in ambulance service?" he said. "We are in the business of saving lives. We will do what we need to do."