Tales of heroin and one long, hot summer

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Salt Lake learned that there was black-tar heroin in the city when a convenience store clerk reported an overdose death in their bathroom. The man had obviously succumbed within seconds of his lethal injection as the syringe was laying on the floor and the tie-off-tube was still on the body.

That particular summer was a tough time. During one six week period, we averaged at least one overdose death every day somewhere in the city from the new heroin. It was ugly. There is an old saying: meth destroys, heroin kills. Rich, poor, young, old, male, female, it is indiscriminate. It doesn’t care.

One afternoon I was sent to the lobby of one of our ‘flea-bag” hotels. You’ve seen them on television and in movies, they are the one room, rent-by-the-week (or hour) skid row housing, mostly occupied by the “down-on-their-lucks” prostitutes, alcoholics, day laborers, and transient population. I arrived to find “Steve” doing CPR on today’s soon-to-be heroin-related death.

Steve was one of the most remarkable young men I had ever met. He was a paramedic-fireman by trade, a world class athlete and a person of enormous courage and fortitude. We sent him through our SWAT school because we wanted to cross-train paramedics for our team.

I’m not sure that we ever challenged him in any category, certainly not in physical fitness. After running them for miles and miles we tested candidates individually. Wearing his tactical vest and helmet, his medical bag including oxygen tank, his tactical firearm, holster, flashlight and other web gear (50-plus pounds) we stood in awe and finally stopped him after 15 pull ups. He was just starting to slow down. That was a remarkable feat but that was not what defined him to me.

After giving the “dead” man CPR and Narcan, a substance that will temporarily inhibits the effects of heroin, Steve brought the man back into the world of the living. However, it had been a large dose of heroin and the man began to slip away again. Steve started CPR again and maintained the man’s circulation and inhalation. More Narcan was authorized and given. The man came back to us again. Just as they were preparing to transport him to the hospital, he went into cardiac arrest again. More CPR. This time it took a long, long time to bring him back to stability. CPR is unbelievably stressful and exhausting hard work. The firemen rotated through the administration of the cardiac compressions and ventilation bag.

As they prepared to transport for the third (fourth?) time, they began to lose him again. I was close enough to see the cardiac monitor and it looked flat to me. The battalion chief suggested that they call the incident, enough time and effort had been spent. You can’t win them all. However, the protocol was that the paramedics made the medical decisions, not the battalion chief. Without hesitation, Steve went back to work on the guy for the fourth, or was it the fifth or sixth time? No one thought there was a chance. Everyone, including the addict, had given up, everyone, except Steve.

Steve brought him back again and they were finally able to transport him to a trauma unit. When I wrote the letter of commendation to the fire chief, I called it the single most heroic event I had ever witnessed. I also noted the shame of it: Steve cared far more for the man’s life than did the addict himself. Steve worked harder to give the man his life back, than the man spent living it.

FYI: several months later the man overdosed again, this time there was no Steve around. We continued to find them all summer. It was common to find an overdose drenched in water. “Friends,” afraid of being arrested for their own heroin use, would immerse the overdose victim in a bathtub of cold water to revive him or her instead of calling the professionals. Sometimes the victim was left in the parking lot of a hospital to find his/her way to the emergency room or for someone to find the body. Often there was no obvious cause of death because the OD was dumped at another location while the onlookers cleaned up the actual site, taking or destroying the evidence of heroin and paraphernalia.

I thought I had escaped from the “big city” heroin problem, but I am saddened to tell you that there are opiates, including heroin (and its prescription equivalent — Methadone or Oxycotin, etc.) in North Idaho. I have talked to the addicts and I have seen the track marks. It’s real and it’s here now. Meth destroys, opiates kill; don’t experiment with this one.

It’s not likely that the addicts will be reading this article but if you are, please know there is help available. There are professionals who can guide you through withdrawal and rehabilitation. You don’t have to go through it alone. You are never too far gone until you are gone. There are “Steves” here but I would not bet my life on them finding you.

Make the right decision: don’t take the drug.

Sgt. Foster Mayo retired from Salt Lake Police Department and then worked for several years as a Bonners Ferry police officer finally “retiring” as deputy chief from the police department. He continues to serve Boundary County as a volunteer in the role of reserve sergeant with the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office.

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