On the morning of June 8, a Columbus hospital called to tell us that Kara, our 43-year-old daughter, was in the ICU as the result of a prescription drug overdose. Later that day, she was pronounced deceased. Her death is devastating to many, including her two children, my wife and me, her grandmother, co-workers in Columbus, friends and others.
Moderated by Rick Badie
Today, Holly Springs’ top lawman writes about his Cherokee County agency being the first in Georgia to train and equip officers to use an anti-overdose medicine. A Georgia State University professor who lost two adult children to substance abuse shares his story and encourages parents struggling with addiction to speak up — and seek help — to address the disease’s toll on families. A third column deals with teenage driver safety.
Equip police with anti-overdose meds
By Ken Ball
As a 40-year law enforcement professional, I can say there is nothing I haven’t seen or done that could shock me. But there has been nothing as grueling as telling one of my troops her 20-year-old daughter was found dead on the side of a road, another drug addiction victim.
It was a defining moment for me as a chief, public servant and friend. I never took the alarming rise in opioid addiction lightly, especially when a pain clinic attempted to set up shop in Holly Springs, but this one hit close to home.
The basic objectives for law enforcement officers have not changed in the 40 years since I started: to protect, serve and save lives. I have met many people who dismiss victims of drug overdose as addicts who did it to themselves, junkies or trash; however, that is far from the case.
Young, bright, intelligent and thriving kids are dying from opioids. Young adults, middle-aged adults and now, older adults are victims. These victims are someone’s mom, dad, daughter, son, brother, sister or friend. Their lives are worth saving. This drug affects all walks of life: homeless, lower-income, middle-income and wealthy.
Law enforcement officers should try to prevent these deaths. This is what we took an oath to do.
It wasn’t but a few months after Taylor Smith’s death that her mother, Holly Springs police Lt. Tanya Smith, advocated for the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty law. It grants amnesty from drug-related arrests if a 911 call is made for a person overdosing.
I was with her when she testified in front of the Judiciary Committee about the effects of this law and how it could have saved her daughter’s life, how law enforcement is often the first to arrive on the scene of a 911 call for help, and how those precious few moments could be the difference between life and death for an overdose victim.
I knew then, as I knew the day I told her about Taylor’s death, that there is no longer an excuse for police departments not to train and equip officers with naloxone (an anti-overdose drug). There is an epidemic in this country. It is our job to be prepared and respond when called upon. Some may say we are obscuring the lines between EMS and police; I say we are being responsible and proactive public servants.
When Smith came to me with a plan to make Holly Springs the first police department in Georgia to implement a naloxone program, it seemed like the expected next step for the agency to take. After research and discussions with respected medical doctors, training was completed, and naloxone was at each officer’s disposal. The program was up and running within six weeks of the law taking effect.
Who could have predicted that within another six weeks after that training, we would have two overdose reversals? I can’t help but wonder, would those two people be alive today if we had simply been satisfied with the law passing, if we hadn’t taken the next logical step of putting naloxone in patrol cars?
I’ve watched a man die from heroin overdose. I attempted to save him with CPR, which does nothing for an overdose victim. It is a helpless, empty feeling not being able to save a life.
I have confidence no Holly Springs officer will have to experience that feeling. Equally I have confidence two families and two victims have that second chance at life and the chance to get professional help. I can only pray other police agencies will follow suit and implement an anti-overdose program.
Ken Ball is police chief in Holly Springs.
Erase stigma of drug abuse
By Jan Ligon