Health officials stress importance of life-saving techniques in wake of homeless camp overdoses

Weeks before the City of Minneapolis plans to open a temporary Navigation Center, Minneapolis health officials are reaching out to those living in the homeless encampment by teaching life-saving techniques in case of a drug overdose.

Among the homeless encampment along Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis, access to Narcan remains a priority. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office told Fox 9 the city is making sure the drug is available as “harm reduction” is a cornerstone of the city’s “compassionate approach” to solving this problem.

“In some of the most recent overdoses, Narcan has not been effective,” said Thomas Wyatt, the Hennepin Healthcare Emergency Medical Director.

In the case of the third fatal overdose in October, 51-year-old Pamela Rivera, 10 doses of Narcan still didn’t save her.

“So our thought was to reach out to the community and provide some basic first aid training about how to position patients, get some rescue breaths and call 911,” said Wyatt.

At the Minneapolis American Indian Center, Hennepin Healthcare set out to teach bag-valve or manual respiration techniques to keep people breathing, in addition to Narcan.

Staff were hoping for 15 to 20 people, but no one came. Health officials say they’re still hoping to find a way to get the tools and training into the camp.

“Some people have an over-reliance on Narcan, and this is just another tool for the toolbox to keep people alive until paramedics get there and 911 gets there and can help and take them to the hospital,” said Gregg Jones of Hennepin EMS.

The scheduled clinic comes just a day after a fire broke out in the camp, which burned 10 tents. Fire officials say an unattended propane heater inside a tent caused the blaze. A spokesman for the mayor's office said the Minneapolis Fire Chief has regularly met with people in the camp "to stress the importance of following proper fire safety protocols." Firefighters are also doing regular inspections.