Evansville officers recognized for saving lives
EVANSVILLE -- Evansville Police Lt. Patrick Reese understands battling the opioid epidemic can be exhausting for law enforcement.
He believes recognizing outstanding actions can help officers avoid burnout, and saving a life is about the most outstanding thing an officer can do on the job.
Officers Matthew Nankee, Christopher Jones and Ian Reilly were recognized Monday morning with lifesaving awards. All three used Narcan and other resuscitation methods to save people from opioid overdoses.
Smiles ran across the officers' faces as Reese tossed them pins for their uniforms Monday morning.
“To me, any life you save is worthy of a life saving award,” Reese said.
On Aug. 16, Nankee found an 18-year-old man unconscious and unresponsive in his home, Reese said. The man's breathing was abnormal.
Nankee immediately administered two doses of Narcan and applied oxygen, Reese said. A third dose was administered by an ambulance crew once it arrived at the scene.
The man became responsive after the third dose, Reese said.
Nankee's response “no doubt” saved the man's life, Reese said. He recently saw the man walk by the police station.
“Officer Nankee's bravery and quick thinking offered the best outcome possible given the circumstances,” Reese said.
Jones and Reilly responded to a 41-year-old man who overdosed at a friend's home Sept. 11, Reese said. The man wavered between not breathing and abnormal breathing.
The duo performed chest compressions, used an automated external defibrillator and administered two doses of Narcan to keep him alive, Reese said.
They believed the man died, Reese said. Officers later learned the man survived the overdose.
“We are very proud that officers Jones and Reilly worked as a team to save a life,” Reese said.
TAMING AN EPIDEMIC
Unfortunately, Reese said, he does not expect Monday's awards to be the last for officers saving overdose victims.
“We will probably all eventually get one of these if we don't get this epidemic under control,” Reese said.
When Reese was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in July, he made it a priority to recognize officers for their actions. He understands how difficult it can be to respond to an overdose call.
When Reese started working in law enforcement 17 years ago, he never encountered overdose situations.
The first time he did, he remembers feeling incredibly sad.
“We're the first line to give them a chance of living and becoming productive,” Reese said.
The lieutenant sometimes encounters people who think it's a waste of time to save the lives of those who abuse drugs, Reese said.
The Evansville Police Department makes saving lives its No. 1 priority and does not discriminate based on who is in trouble or why, Reese said.
Law enforcement regularly has to adapt training and services to fit the needs of the community, Reese said. The community needs more resources and education on how to lower opioid abuse.
The opioid epidemic is a national issue, and Evansville is not immune, Reese said.
ADAPTING TO NEEDS
In 2015, the Evansville Police Department was the first in Rock County to put Narcan in each squad car.
It would not be possible to save overdose victims without help from the organization Building a Safer Evansville and from Mercyhealth, Reese said.
Reese attends national conferences with Jennifer Braun, executive director of Building a Safer Evansville, to learn more about the opioid epidemic and how they can combat it in Evansville.
Building a Safer Evansville helped initiate the medication drop box program in the city, according to its website.
From 2015 to 2016, 597 pounds of medications were collected in Evansville's drop box, according to the 2015 to 2016 highlights report from Building a Safer Evansville.
Mercyhealth provides Narcan training to officers at no cost, Reese said. That sets Evansville apart from communities of comparable size.
Reese wants the community to understand there are a lot of “perfectly good” people who get caught up in drugs and whose lives are worth saving, he said.
Officers will continue to arrive to overdose situations without hesitation, Reese said. The only thing different now is the possibility of adding shiny pins to their vests and trophies to their mantles.