After an unresponsive 2-year-old was revived by St. Paul paramedics using Narcan, a public health official said Wednesday it highlights the need for community members to have access to the medication that can reverse opioid overdoses.
There are places where people can pick up naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, for free, and St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health officials say they’re planning a pilot program to make it more readily available “for situations just like this.”
Five children who were age 5 or younger died of fentanyl-involved overdoses in the state between 2017 and 2022, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The Minnesota Poison Control System was contacted about more than 60 children under the age of 3 who were exposed to opioids since 2022, the agency said in July.
“With so much fentanyl out there on the street, obviously it’s very dangerous” if children are exposed, said Ryan Rasmussen, public health educator with St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health’s Opioid Response Initiative.
Police responded to the St. Paul case around 5:20 a.m. Sunday after getting a report that a toddler wasn’t breathing. She was in a sport-utility vehicle in an East Maryland Avenue parking lot near Phalen Boulevard.
A 22-year-old passenger said the child’s mother, 31, is an acquaintance who occasionally gives her a ride. The woman had picked her up a short time earlier from a home on Bush Avenue in St. Paul, according to a criminal complaint filed this week.
Police saw a piece of tin foil between the SUV’s center console and cupholder and a small metal scraper with residue; “both were consistent with items used to consume narcotics,” the complaint said. There was also a straw with more narcotic residue in the center console.
Officers told paramedics that the child, whose condition had begun to worsen, may have been exposed to narcotics and paramedics immediately gave her Narcan. The child quickly became more responsive and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
The toddler’s mother told police she didn’t believe her daughter ingested narcotics, “but that she may have been exposed to them at a home earlier that night; she said that people there use fentanyl,” the complaint said. “She made a comment about having only left the child there for a short time.”
The passenger said the girl had been quiet in the middle rear seat when she was picked up and, after about three-quarters of a mile, the mother screamed the baby was blue. The mother pulled her child onto her knee and attempted to provide CPR while she was driving. The other woman called 911.
The Ramsey County attorney’s office charged the mother with felony child endangerment. The passenger, who had warrants for her arrest, was found with powder in a dollar bill that tested positive for the presence of fentanyl.
Ramsey County prosecutors have brought cases against parents in recent drug-related deaths of children. A 7-year-old died in March after ingesting fentanyl at her St. Paul home, and her mother is charged with manslaughter. The mother and father of a 15-month-old boy were sentenced to prison this year after he ingested heroin and fentanyl at their Little Canada apartment and died last year.
There were 81 opioid-involved deaths in Ramsey County in the first six months of this year, according to data from the county. That’s compared to 129 in all of 2021. The numbers began spiking in 2020, when there were 69 such deaths, compared to 33 a year earlier.
There’s also been a surge in hospital visits for nonfatal opioid overdoses: There were 747 in 2021, compared to 451 in 2019, according to Ramsey County data.
Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often added to other drugs, including other opioids, making it difficult for people who use drugs to know what they’re ingesting and to what they may be exposing their children, according to the Minnesota Poison Control System.
“Even a small amount that’s ingested by a small child is more likely to be fatal because of their size and they don’t have tolerance,” Rasmussen said. And blue fentanyl pills can resemble candy to young children, he added.
St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry told the City Council last week that when he was a new St. Paul police officer in the 1990s, if he responded to one or two fatal opioid deaths a year, “that would have been a lot. … Now we have officers that may respond to four or five of those in a week sometimes.”
All St. Paul officers carry Narcan and patrol officers have multiple doses on hand because “one dose doesn’t always cut it” and there may be more than one person at an incident who has overdosed and needs Narcan, Henry said.
St. Paul officers have administered Narcan at least 80 times so far this year, compared with at least 71 times throughout last year, according to the police department. Staff throughout Ramsey County have also received training in how to use Narcan.
For anyone using fentanyl or who knows of someone who is, they should have Narcan on hand “whether it’s for the person using, for a loved one or, heaven forbid, a child,” Rasmussen said.
Community members who find someone unresponsive can also give them Narcan via nasal spray, said Public Health Director Sara Hollie. St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health is working to launch a pilot program this year to provide nasal naloxone to “communities that are most impacted by opioids,” Hollie said.
If a person is found unresponsive and the reason isn’t known, providing Narcan doesn’t harm them if it turns out to be another medical issue and, if it’s an opioid overdose, naloxone can reverse it, experts said.
A local virtual community town hall about fentanyl is planned for Thursday, Sept. 28, from 6-8:30 p.m. It’s featuring the perspectives of young people and national resources. People can register to get the meeting link at rccmhc.org/event-details/fentanyl-narcan-youth-health-townhall-3.
Information for anyone who wants naloxone training can be found at steverummlerhopenetwork.org/resources/i-want-naloxone-training.
Naloxone can be found at pharmacies, syringe service programs and other harm reduction groups. To look up where to get Narcan near you, go to knowthedangers.com/naloxone-finder.
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