Benzie sheriff combats drug overdoses

BEULAH — A nasal spray could help reverse Benzie County’s wave of fatal drug overdoses.

Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel counts his deputies as the first in Michigan to carry Narcan, a drug that counteracts heroin and other opiate overdoses. He’s received calls from his law enforcement counterparts across the state, including in Oakland County, who also look to equip their officers with the nasal spray dose.

“We wanted to do it here, because even if we save one life it’s worth it,” he said.

Three Benzie County residents died in drug overdoses last year and authorities continue to grapple with what’s been a persistent problem for the rural area.

Schendel said a Facebook message from a woman who lost her brother in a fatal drug overdose brought one potential solution to his attention: police in Quincy, Mass., used Narcan, or naxolone, to reverse about 200 opiate overdoses since 2010.

“Time is of the essence,” Schendel said. “Often times, police are there first. If you’re in the correct time period, we can administer Narcan.”

Deputies added Narcan nasal spray to their gear in December after a short training program with Benzie County EMS Director Craig Johnson. He said Narcan is a fairly safe drug, but deputies needed to learn how and when to use it, or not.

“It’s a fairly short training but it’s specific to that drug,” he said.

Johnson said protocol makes it more difficult for first responders to receive training with the drug than law enforcement officers. Schendel said each dose costs about $21 and Benzie County EMS picked up the $300 tab.

Deputies haven’t yet used Narcan, but it couldn’t have saved the county’s last overdose victim. Schendel said Christopher Glen Hobart, 21, died hours before emergency personnel arrived at his Weldon Road residence in February.

Criminal cases often follow Benzie County’s overdoses and authorities arrested Shelby Miller, 22, who lived in the house with Hobart, on a possession of methadone charge. She appeared in 85th District Court on Thursday for a preliminary examination.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said court cases remain active in the 2011 heroin overdose death of Michael Everett, 21. Authorities originally charged Lisa Woodhall, 30, with delivery of a controlled substance causing death, but she eventually pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter.

Woodhall agreed to testify against Tradvis Demarr Williams, 34, of Cheboygan, who now faces the same delivery causing death charge. Williams will stand trial after a federal drug case wraps in Michigan’s Eastern District Court that involves him.

Swanson said another accused drug dealer implicated in an overdose death last year almost faced the same charge. In May, Justin Smith, 23, died from a suspected drug overdose and investigators arrested Mark Lee Maxwell, 33, of Oak Park.

Swanson said decided not to pursue a delivery causing death case.

“We can’t always tell what caused them to pass away,” she said.

Maxwell pleaded no contest to delivery of heroin and delivery of cocaine, both felonies. Nineteenth Circuit Court Judge James Batzer on Tuesday set a 58-month minimum sentence.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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