The woman lying in front of him was unresponsive, her pulse was weak, and she was hardly breathing.
Joe Schmidt checked her vitals and then her eyes. When he saw her pupils were constricted, he knew she was overdosing on opioids and time was running out.
Schmidt administered a dose of Narcan into the woman’s nose to reverse the effects of the narcotics in her system.
She had taken nearly 27 hydrocodone pills, but within 10 seconds of Schmidt administering the antidote, she was sitting up, coherent and talking.
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Law enforcement officers are almost always the first to arrive to emergencies, and in most cases, they’re working with limited resources to keep someone who has overdosed on narcotics coherent or alive.
That’s why 214 law enforcement vehicles across nine Johnson County police departments are now stocked with the Narcan kit that Schmidt used to save the woman’s life.
Five lives have been saved since April. Narcan has been successfully used by a Trafalgar and New Whiteland police officer and three Johnson County sheriff’s deputies since officers began training and carrying it this spring.
Schmidt has been a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy for 26 years, and he knew if he had to wait for paramedics, the chances of the woman surviving lessened by the second.
State laws recently were changed to allow police officers and other first responders to carry and use Narcan, the intervention drug, which has been used by medics for decades.
When officers administer Narcan, it extends that fragile survival window by nearly 30 minutes, which is enough time for an officer to gather information from a responsive individual about how many pills or what kind of drugs they took, enabling the officer to quickly inform medics when they arrive, Schmidt said.
“I administered the Narcan, and within 10 seconds she was (conscious) and talking to us. It’s almost like they’re not even on drugs any longer. That’s how we were able to find out how many pills she had taken,” Schmidt said. “There’s never a doubt (if it will work).”
Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said the need for officers to carry Narcan kits became apparent to him at a meeting with other law enforcement officials after another life was lost due to drug abuse.
The growing use of drugs such as heroin and prescription pills is part of a larger ongoing battle against the use of narcotics in the county.
Johnson County Coroner Craig Lutz said more than two dozen deaths he investigated last year were due to overdoses. Many of those deaths resulted from people mixing different types of prescriptions, which Narcan also could help prevent, depending on what was taken.
“When officers have to carry Narcan, it tells you (narcotics) are a real problem,” Cox said.
That’s why he went to Johnson Memorial Health with the request for help in getting all Johnson County officers educated, trained and equipped with Narcan. Johnson Memorial Health agreed. Now, all nine law enforcement agencies in the county have officers carrying Narcan, hospital spokeswoman Jane Blessing said.
The kits cost $42.42 apiece, and they are paid for and provided by Johnson Memorial Health, Blessing said. When an officer has to use a kit, Johnson Memorial replaces it. The total cost for all 214 law enforcement vehicles equipped with the kits was $9,037, Blessing said.
“We are just trying to save a life. Why or how (the life needs saving) isn’t the issue,” Johnson Memorial Health communications coordinator Casey DeArmitt said. “Being able to have (Narcan) administered makes our job easier when the person gets to the hospital.”
Cox is aware of the opinions from some residents who ask why law enforcement officers are taking steps to save the life of someone who has overdosed on drugs, and in some instances meant to do so in an attempt to take his or her own life, he said.
“People ask why we are saving those people, and why do we care about those people,” Cox said. “I care, and I continue to care. Those people could be someone important in our lives. They could be parents, brothers, sisters. Our job is to serve and protect, and I take that seriously.”
The officers who carry the kit learn how to use it with a couple of hours of training from staff members at Johnson Memorial, Schmidt said. Police are often the first to arrive, especially in rural areas, where some emergencies are hard for paramedics and firefighters to get to in a short amount of time.
“It’s a huge bonus (for law enforcement) to have this, especially being so rural,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been on a run where it takes 10 minutes or so for (paramedics) to get there and another officer was administering CPR until EMS got there.”
Most officers would prefer it never have to be used and that there wasn’t such a need for the county to carry it, Cox said. But he added the reality of Johnson County’s battle against narcotics and the poor choices people often make demands it.
“A lot of times we are the first ones to medic runs, and as long as there are people out here making bad choices, if we can have (Narcan) on board, we will take the steps to do so.”
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies using Narcan to save lives:
April 23: The day after receiving his training, a deputy administers Narcan to a woman who passed out after taking prescription pills and drinking.
May 28: A deputy administers Narcan to a woman who overdosed from 27 hydrocone pills during an apparent suicide attempt.
May 29: Just 12 hours after a woman was saved, another deputy administers Narcan to a man who had overdosed on morphine.