ROCHESTER, Minn. – Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson has rallied support to demand that medical facilities report suspected overdoses to law enforcement.
The surge stems from an increase in reported overdose deaths in Olmsted County. In 2020, the county reported 30 overdose deaths, nearly double the 18 deaths reported in 2019, according to Minnesota Department of Health data.
“We want to be informed so that we can hopefully investigate and find justice for the victim,” Torgerson said.
As the law stands, by the time law enforcement is notified of an overdose, it may be too late to file a complaint against the person who provided the medication, according to Torgerson.
Data from the Department of Health also shows that 2021 has seen a further increase with 32 overdose deaths reported. Over a decade overdose deaths have tended to increase, in 2011 the number of reported overdose deaths was 12.
The Minnesota law in question requires medical professionals to report gunshot wounds, burns, and any injuries they believe were inflicted on the perpetrator by a dangerous weapon.
Torgerson is seeking to change the language so that when someone is treated in a healthcare facility for a suspected overdose, they are required to report it to law enforcement.
“We’re in the early stages and we’re just talking about it,” he said. “We have to find a way to get ahead of this thing somehow. I feel like we’re way behind right now and just treading water.”
Statewide, Minnesota counties with a large population center have seen an increase in overdose deaths since 2011, with Hennepin County taking the top spot in overdose deaths, according to Department of Health data. The county had 396 reported overdose deaths in 2021, compared to 128 reported overdose deaths in 2011.
“It’s a statewide problem, whether it’s the largest metropolitan area or ours, some kind of urban metro or even rural Minnesota,” Torgerson said.
The Rochester Police Department has recorded 14 overdose deaths so far this year in Rochester, compared to seven deaths during the same period in 2021.
While overdose deaths are up in Rochester, total reported overdoses are down for this year, with 91 reported so far in 2022 and 97 reported during the same period in 2021.
Rochester Police Sgt. Chad Blanchette attributes the decrease in reported overdoses to naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose, being more readily available.
“When someone overdoses, we find that friends or family members give naloxone and don’t call 911. Immediate use of naloxone is great, but I would still prefer medical services. emergency are also used,” Blanchette wrote in an email about it. story. “There are times when a single dose of naloxone is ineffective and every second is vital during a medical emergency. The sooner we can get first responders and paramedics to the scene, the more likely the person will be to survive. “
Discrepancies in reported numbers are also part of the problem law enforcement faces.
Law enforcement uses an overdose map in which police and emergency medical personnel enter data to track deaths. In early October, Olmsted County Sheriff’s Captain Mike Bromberg said the map showed 17 overdose deaths in the county so far in 2022.
“But when I call the Minnesota Department of Health and get the numbers, I’m up to 30 (overdose deaths in the county),” he said, adding that the department’s number of Health is only for January through June, leaving a three-month gap for the numbers in the county.
This, coupled with overdoses that go unreported, means no one from law enforcement to medical researchers knows the extent of the problem.
“I fear the increase in addiction, substance use disorders and, quite frankly, mental health as well, are some of the most lasting lingering effects of COVID,” the GOP state senator said. , Carla Nelson.
She was intrigued by Torgerson’s proposal to change reporting requirements and wants to start the conversation in the Legislative Assembly.
“My feeling is that the reason this would be helpful wouldn’t be because of the person showing up at the ER, but for the dealers, the dealers, the people who are selling these drugs that are killing the people of Minnesota,” said Nelson. “We want people to come in, we want them to get help immediately if they overdose, but more specifically we want to prosecute the people selling this poison.”
“The most important thing to say to people struggling with chemical dependency issues and their families is that in the healthcare system, we will treat them with kindness and respect, and we will protect their privacy,” said Dr. Will Nicholson, president of the Minnesota Medical Association.
According to Nicholson, the Minnesota Medical Association doesn’t have a specific position on changing reporting requirements, but the association is considering reviewing opioids, which he called a huge challenge in the state.
“We would never want to put a burden or a barrier between life-saving medical care and that person,” he said. “Sometimes the fear of getting in trouble can be a hindrance, and I would hate for it to result in someone not getting care when they could have and having a bad outcome because of it.”
Law enforcement doesn’t seek to release people’s private medical information, Torgerson said, and he said he doesn’t want to shame medical professionals for serving their patients, but overdoses, in especially with the introduction of fentanyl, are a national problem and one that the nation must address.
“We don’t talk about these things because of this addiction stigma,” Torgerson said. “It shames the family and all that, and I fully understand that, but if these (deaths) were gunshots or even stab wounds, 30 stab wounds, would people think of it that way? “
Bromberg and Torgerson said law enforcement only learns of overdose deaths when police are already involved in the case, are present in the emergency room, or when family members call with questions.
“The moment a family member calls and says, ‘Hey, my loved one died of an overdose two weeks ago, what can you do for us?’ All of their phones are gone and all of the evidence where they were is gone, making these cases nearly impossible to prosecute,” Bromberg said.
According to Bromberg and Torgerson, the focus of changing reporting requirements is to go after resellers, not those who suffer from addiction.
“The medical community likes to hide behind HIPAA on a lot of things, but it’s a public health epidemic, actually, and I hope they would see the harm it does and society seems to have moved away from rights victims,” Bromberg said.
Nicholson said he understands why law enforcement struggles with this issue and suggested we also need to be more proactive as a society and work together to address addiction issues.
“We have to get rid of all the stigma and we have to look at this like any other disease,” Nicholson said. “We have to treat people with chemical dependence like people with heart attacks, strokes or diabetes. It’s a different toolkit to treat them, it’s a different set of things to prevent, but they have a disease like any other disease. There is treatment, there is prevention, and we should be the best state in the country to handle these things.”
Blanchette wrote that crisis intervention training helps officers navigate addiction situations, with an emphasis on getting one-on-one help through their supported recovery program.
“Social workers known as Community Outreach Specialists often respond to overdose calls with law enforcement, and together we work to make sure the person is aware of the resources available to them,” said he wrote. “Even though we can’t always reach someone who is struggling with addiction, we don’t give up. People have to be willing to accept the help that’s offered to them, and the power of addiction is not not easy to overcome.”