Watching Someone Die in Ohio

Once again I am reading of yet another police department bemoaning the fact that they have to use a nasal spray (Narcan) to reverse the fatal effects of an opiate overdose. Just last week Butler County Sheriff, Richard K. Jones, prohibited his officers from carrying Narcan by explaining “here in Ohio, the (paramedics) get there about the same time and they’re more equipped to use Narcan. Requiring deputies to administer the medication puts them in danger.”

While true that Sheriff Butler is in the midst of a maddening epidemic that is exhausting and frightening – his explanation is nonsensical.  Why would police officers allow paramedics to deal with people who, in his words, “turn violent once they are revived?”

Sheriff Jones further complains that this epidemic is “sucking his taxpayers dry.”  Jones next move may be to follow the lead of fellow City Councilman Dan Picard from nearby Middletown, Ohio.  Picard has requested that ambulances no longer be dispatched to previously revived people. (In fact, he would like those overdosing to be fined – on the small chance they survive without assistance.) Now here is a move that would doubly benefit the taxpayer!

What we are hearing, (if not job exhaustion accompanied by bigotry), is a need to revisit the department’s mission statement. It is not uncommon for large organizations to have to remind themselves of their core mission.

Most police officers are hired:
-to mitigate damage and destruction of property
-to defend and protect individuals in the community
-to operate as first responders*
*Contractual footnote: most stipulate a speedy emergency response even to multiple calls from the same individual – you do not get to choose who you respond to. Also, those served aren’t required to be instantly appreciative or futuristically compliant.

Those of us who parent addicts understand the frustration. We know they don’t listen. We know they go back to the drugs. We know our efforts are often ineffectual. Over and over again – the same honest effort, the same disappointing result. But confer further with those of us who are not in a position to “give up” and we will tell you to trust in that future day. Not all will be saved because no epidemic-sized rescue mission will ever be 100% effective. But the recovery community is surprisingly large. Imagine the day when the person you revived is healthy and whole and breathtakingly alive. Imagine you made that possible by the simple application of a quick acting nasal spray.

Now, imagine differently. Imagine you arrive at the scene. You see the boy you saved last week. He is blue. You try to ignore his crying parents as his breathing slows to a stop. You mumble under your breath “not my problem” because this time you are not permitted to expend any life saving measures. You console yourself that the boy willfully took the drug. Possibly it will feel like witnessing a goldfish jump out of its bowl and quietly allowing it to suffocate.

I imagine that Sheriff Jones forgot one crucial element in his cost-benefit analysis: the mental health of his responding officers. Did he consider how they might feel responding and choosing not to serve? Not to rescue? Not to mitigate the damage? Not to call forth compassion?

It is one thing to be tired of saving the same people over and over.
But it is quite another to watch them die.

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