Police Chief Scott Johnson

The young woman is laying on the motel room floor. The radio call dispatched to officers was that she wasn’t breathing. Deputy Steve Snyder quickly arrives at the motel and rushes through the door. Officer Ashley Moran comes in right behind him. The woman has no pulse. For all practical purposes, she is dead. They know her. She uses heroin.

Her roommate tells officers that she injected heroin into her arm and collapsed onto the floor. Ashley started CPR. Steve ran back to his squad car to get Narcan, a drug that may contradict the opioid poison in her body. Sergeant Heath Smith is now there and is setting up a portable oxygen unit, which he will use to force air into her lungs. Steve sprays Narcan into her nostrils. Now there is a pulse. She takes a breath. Meds-1 Paramedics enter the room and take over emergency care. Several minutes later, the woman is conscious and being rushed to the hospital.

Heroin isn’t the only demon with which she wrestles. There is also meth. We learn that last August she was arrested in a neighboring county while driving high on meth. She was convicted in that county and sentenced to 90 days in jail. The judge stayed the imposition of the jail sentence and placed her on supervised probation in that county. She was given a second chance, one she has squandered. The criminal justice system is not designed to get her off drugs but can be the catalyst to force her to get the help she needs.

We contact the probation agent in that neighboring county and are told that the conditions of sentencing don’t include abstaining from the use of drugs. We request a copy of the sentencing document from that county attorney. The probation agent is correct. One of the conditions, however, is that the woman remains “law abiding and of good behavior.” The probation agent tells us that unless she is charged with a crime related to this incident, that she is considered to be law abiding. She confirmed this with the judge. Her hands are tied.

Prosecutors cannot, however, charge her with a crime as Minnesota law was changed some years ago prohibiting them from charging anyone if someone reports a drug overdose. The intent is good. The practical implication is not. As law enforcement officers, we scratch our heads and wonder how, regardless of criminal charges, she remains law abiding when she possesses and uses heroin. It doesn’t make much sense and takes away the ability of the criminal justice system to force her to get the help she so desperately needs. Yet, a review of the statute revealed that her probation cannot be revoked, regardless of a lack of charges, since this incident was reported as an overdose medical emergency.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health released a Health Advisory announcing a spike in drug overdoses. They report that in the last two weeks, Minnesota has seen 175 overdoses, 17 of these fatal. To most people, these are just statistics. To our law enforcement officers, paramedics, doctors, nurses and probation officers, they are an all too frequent reality.

This was the second time in four months that this young woman overdosed on heroin. What if she had been alone? What if nobody had called? What if someone waited to call? It’s her choice. She is hooked and needs help but refuses to help herself.

There is little doubt that on another future day deputies and officers will get the same radio call about this young woman. They will arrive to find her laying on the floor, not breathing with no pulse. Will we be there in time? Will the system have done everything it could?

It is frustrating.


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