Naloxone Life Saving Awards were presented last week to 15 Garland County Sheriff's Office personnel, all of whom saved at least one life using the opiate overdose-reversing drug naloxone between April 2022 and April 2023.
Recently appointed Arkansas Drug Director Thomas Fisher personally presented Sgt. Greg Kellar, Cpl. Matthew Cogburn and Undersheriff Jason Lawrence with their awards at the sheriff's office, while the others were unable to attend the presentation.
Sheriff's deputies who earned the award include Tyler Wagner, Alex Holloway, Candice Presley, Jeremy Simpson, Daniel Robinson, Chandler Overton, Michael Wagner, Richard Huffman, Hunter Grubbs, Stacy Morgan, Cody Rollins and Trevonn Reedy.
Kellar's call was on March 22, 2022, when he saved the life of a woman with the use of naloxone.
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"Got a call out on Frona Lane for (a female) unresponsive, possible overdose," Kellar said. "Get on the scene, and she had taken a couple hits of fentanyl ... she ended up surviving."
"I'm telling you, if not for you, someone's daughter is not their daughter any longer, or mom," Fisher said to Kellar.
Although the use of naloxone is sometimes associated with the stigma of drug abuse, it can also be a lifesaving factor in accidents, such as in the case with Cogburn's experience on Aug. 21, 2022.
"It was an elderly lady, I don't remember how old she was, but she had taken too many of her pain medications," he said. "She was out in her bathroom, and her husband didn't know what to do. She was unconscious. She had been out for a just a little bit, and she wasn't breathing. I hit her, and it took about three seconds and she was coming to."
Friday was Lawrence's first experience receiving a Naloxone Life Saving Award, he said, and he recalled the incident that led to it.
"So, Dec. 30, 2022, at approximately 12 o'clock in the afternoon, I actually was going out to the detention center to do some follow-up on some paperwork," he said.
"I received a call of an individual passed out in front of the jail. I get on scene, a detention nurse was doing CPR on the individual. So, I got there, started CPR. Did CPR for approximately 19 and a half minutes. First responders get on there, we work them, CPR, we tried everything, we shocked them. And finally we go, 'Let's try Narcan.' So, popped him Narcan, he comes back, heart rate, just like that. Ends up being transported to the hospital soon after," Lawrence said.
Garland County had one of the highest overdose death rates in the state, at 33.9 per 100,000 as of March 6, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health provided by Fisher's office.
"Garland County's always been, for some reason, that place where nothing in the state's hitting except in Garland County," Fisher said. "We didn't have heroin in the state, we didn't have a problem in the state, per se, but in Garland County, we had a problem with heroin. It started here. ... When I think of forward leading and leadership in the state, it should be emulated to come from, in my opinion, Garland County."
The peer recovery support specialist program has been having an impact on the county's numbers, Fisher said. Hot Springs first introduced the program in 2021, with Sean Willits as the peer recovery support specialist.
"He said that they documented 12 to 13 overdoses, fatal, not fatal, didn't matter, on a monthly average" Fisher said. "So he just left in April of '23, so two years when they left here in Hot Springs, they were working two to three a month at that point. But, I will say that I do think the naloxone is working. I think we're giving people second, third, even fourth, it doesn't matter how many chances, but we're keeping them alive.
"I think the way you guys express you're open to the community and peer recovery specialists are taking people out of those grips of addiction and removing them to another place that we don't have to find them dead or we don't have to find them back in jail."