DENVER — More and more often, first-responders race to parks, homes, parking lots and other places to find people unconscious and dying from fentanyl overdose.
“Seconds count,” said Deputy Chris Calderon-Calzada. “Somebody stops breathing.”
Drugs laced with the synthetic opioid leave little time before an overdose turns into death. As Colorado faces an unprecedented fentanyl crisis, first-responders carry a lifesaver: naloxone, or Narcan as some people know it.
Last year alone, Calderon-Calzada, with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), saved seven people using naloxone.
“They have family members who care for them,” he said. “They have loved ones. They might have kids. You want to do everything you can to help that person start breathing again so that loved ones have another day with them. Just like I want my family members to have another day with me, or vice versa.”
RELATED: How to get Narcan in Colorado
On a call to an apartment in December, Calderon-Calzada responded in less than three minutes.
“I was right down the street, maybe a block away,” he said. “I knew the building. Just trying to figure out where the apartment was.”
ACSO body camera video shows Calderon-Calzada running inside and finding a woman unconscious on the floor. Her hands and lips are blue. The man she got the drugs from found her and called 911.
Calderon-Calzada immediately uses naloxone.
“I’m starting compressions. I don’t have a pulse,” he says into his radio after administering the lifesaving medicine.
Seconds later, the Naloxone takes effect.
“I have a pulse again,” he says into his radio.
The woman he saved on that December afternoon asked 9News not to show her face or say her name. She wanted to share her story of addiction and the fast response that saved her life.
“I died. I was dead. They both saved my life,” the woman told 9News about Calderon-Calzada and the man who called 911. “God was looking over me. I know not everyone believes in God, but it was a miracle of some sort. That was something. It was a miracle.”
She said she knew the pill was laced with fentanyl. Her decision to take it was fueled by decades of addiction.
“That was what was available, and I was willing to try it,” she said. “It eats your soul up. It absolutely eats your soul. There is a better way to live, and I lived that way before. I don’t know why it keeps calling us back and why it haunts us. It’s a lifelong challenge.”
Now she has another chance, thanks to how quickly she was revived.
“He’s an angel. Angel in a uniform,” she said. “This was a reality that I truly died. I was just thinking about what my dad would do. About how he would feel.”
The woman said that in the months since the overdose, she has sought treatment and went to a detox facility. She feels better and is returning to the life she knew before addiction.
“It makes me feel better knowing that she’s doing better now, and at least I had a part in helping her get to where she is now,” Calderon-Calzada said. “So that makes me happy.”
Narcan use by officers rises
Most law-enforcement agencies don’t keep track of how many times they administer naloxone, but it’s clear that the increasing number of overdoses isn’t only in Arapahoe County.
“People will use something thinking that it’s something else,” said Boulder Police Deputy Chief Stephen Redfearn. “If it’s laced with fentanyl, you’ll see a very quick overdose.”
His officers don’t leave the station anymore without naloxone.
“What we’ve seen from 2020 to 2021 is our uses of Narcan by our officers almost doubled,” Redfearn said. “It’s one of the tools that our officers won’t leave the station without when they head out on their shift.”
Colorado has a law that protects people who call 911 from being prosecuted, even if they have illegal drugs on them. The goal is to encourage people to call for help when they need it instead of worrying if they’ll get in trouble.
“More and more often, we’re finding ourselves doing life-saving measures, as opposed to traditional law-enforcement functions,” Redfearn said. “For all intents and purposes, a lot of times, the person is clinically dead. They have no pulse, no breathing.”
In the moments after an overdose, when there’s still hope, lives change in seconds.
“We don’t want any more lives lost to these drugs,” Calderon-Calzada said. “At least there’s something we can do to try and help these people.”
How Narcan works
The video below explains how Narcan (naloxone) works:
The City of Denver will mail Narcan and fentanyl testing strips to any resident who wants them. In addition to providing easier access, Denver’s program is free.
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