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Mitchell PD proactive on opioid emergency

Mitchell law enforcement is preparing for what could be the next big drug problem in the state. The opioid crisis gained national media attention last week when President Donald Trump declared the problem a "nationwide public emergency." South Da...

Seven Mitchell Police Officers carry an opiod overdose Nalozone Kit with them that contains NARCAN nasal spray and CPR guards in case the officers encounter potential drug overdose scenes related to opioid use. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Seven Mitchell Police Officers carry an opiod overdose Nalozone Kit with them that contains NARCAN nasal spray and CPR guards in case the officers encounter potential drug overdose scenes related to opioid use. (Matt Gade / Republic)
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Mitchell law enforcement is preparing for what could be the next big drug problem in the state.

The opioid crisis gained national media attention last week when President Donald Trump declared the problem a "nationwide public emergency." South Dakota has not been as severely impacted by the opioid problem, but local officials are not taking chances.

Due to the risk of fatality when incorrectly using opioids, which in high doses causes severe respiratory depression, Mitchell law enforcement is increasing measures to prepare for exposure to opioid overdose incidents.

"It is something we are concerned with," Mitchell Police Lt. Don Everson said. "There have always been drugs that are dangerous that you have to pay attention to when you are handling them. But this is something we haven't really seen yet."

Mitchell Police Chief Lyndon Overweg, Everson, and five investigators on the Mitchell Police Division's James Valley Drug Task Force were trained on how to administer Narcan, the brand name of Naloxone, a few months ago. Narcan is the only Federal Drug Administration (FDA)-approved nasal form of Naloxone for emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose. Everson said officers have not had to use Narcan, but the department only received the drug, which costs $75 per pack, two weeks ago.

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The training was provided partly with funding from the South Dakota Department of Social Services, which was awarded $2 million to help first responders train to use Naloxone and expand access to treatment providers. The training was done in Mitchell and was overseen by a medical director and Assistant Fire Chief Paul Morris.

Mitchell Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has been trained on how to use Narcan for several years, but Everson said he first started thinking about having officers trained on how to use Narcan in April. Everson explained he investigated a case in Mitchell involving an individual who allegedly purchased and distributed fentanyl pills bought off the internet. The use of fentanyl is especially concerning for Everson. A 3 milligram dose of fentanyl can be enough to kill an average-sized adult male. It is common when officers conduct a drug search to field test drugs at the scene or come into contact with a drug during a search, Everson explained.

"An officer could be searching a car for example on a windy day and if there is fentanyl in there you could be exposed very easily and collapse without warning," Everson said. "We decided as a drug task force we wanted to do a little bit more, because sometimes there is a wait for the ambulance depending on what is going on."

The increased chance of exposure and potential harm was reason enough for Everson to want officers to have Narcan available. But for Narcan to be effective, the drug should not be kept in extreme temperatures. Rather than keeping Narcan in officer patrol cars all the time, officers will carry Narcan when they are more likely to use it, such as a drug search.

While South Dakota reports some of the lowest numbers of drug overdose deaths in the country, the trend is slowly moving upward. U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota Randolph Seiler reported 147 people died of drug overdose from 2012 to 2016. Seven of those deaths were reported in Mitchell, according to George Bittner, funeral director in Mitchell.

"It is definitely a big concern because it is going up in frequency not down," said Scott VanKeulen, an emergency medicine doctor at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell. "And there are of course the overdoses that never make it to the emergency room."

According to VanKeulen, in September, four heroin overdose cases were recorded in the emergency room at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital. However, this came three months after no cases were reported.

Methamphetamine and marijuana continue to be the biggest source of drug-related issues in Mitchell, but according to Everson, having Narcan is a precaution for both the public and for officers.

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"We figured the cost of the Narcan is cheap and if we save even one life over the next 10 years it is very well worth it," Everson said.

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