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Black Mountain police officers recognized for saving lives
Around the country, the unrelenting grip of the opioid epidemic claims the lives of over 100 Americans each day. The impact of the crisis is not limited to any one group, but among those on the front lines in the battle against opioid abuse are first responders.
It's here where quick thinking can be the difference between life and death, and on Oct. 8, elected officials recognized a pair of Black Mountain police officers for their life-saving efforts.
During separate incidents in the month of August, officers Jon McDonald and Ian Ammons responded to calls involving unresponsive subjects. In each situation, the officers determined, the victim was experiencing an overdose.
The actions of Ammons and McDonald saved the lives of both people.
"What a privilege it is to be able to recognize people on your staff for going above and beyond to do something as great as saving a life," Black Mountain police chief Shawn Freeman told the board of aldermen and mayor as he presented the two officers with medals for their actions. "We're proud of the actions of these officers."
Ammons responded to a call of an unresponsive subject just after 8 p.m. on Aug. 8. The call was placed from a Black Mountain gas station south of I-40.
"A lot of the time, unfortunately, those kinds of calls are related to overdoses," Ammons said. "In those instances our dispatchers typically let us know fire and EMS is being dispatched as well, but a lot of times we get there a lot faster since we're already out on patrol."
There was no time to waste as Ammons, a native of Black Mountain, and his partner Logan Newhouse arrived on the scene.
"When we arrived there was a subject in the front passenger seat of the vehicle at a gas pump," Ammons said. "A female came out and said that the passenger wasn't responding and she didn't know what was wrong with him."
The woman was reluctant to say whether or not the passenger was under the influence of drugs.
"We're cops, so a lot of people don't want to say anything to get the victim in trouble," he said. "But what a lot of people don't understand is that if we respond to an overdose we're there to get you medical help, we're not concerned about the drugs in your system. We just want to make sure you're safe."
Ammons couldn't locate a pulse on the victim and made a quick decision.
"I looked at my partner and said 'I'm going to Narcan him,'" said Ammons, referring to the naloxone kit Black Mountain officers carry in their cars, which were provided by Project Lazarus out of Wilkes County.
The officer placed the injector in the man's right thigh and waited 30 seconds for the naloxone to counteracts the effects of the opioid. When the man regained consciousness, he immediately expressed his gratitude toward the officer who saved his life.
"He was one of the most grateful people I've ever seen in that situation," Ammons said. "He thanked me over and over for being there to save him."
Less than three weeks later on Aug. 25, McDonald, a 12-year veteran of the force, was the first to arrive to a call from a gas station north of I-40. He was greeted by a group of people waving their arms to get his attention.
"They were frantic," he said. "Prior to my arrival the store had closed and got everyone out. When I got inside they said someone barricaded themselves in the bathroom and would no longer respond."
McDonald was prepared for a possible overdose.
"There were two subjects who had forced entry into the door and a lady lying there on the floor," he said. "I checked for a pulse, and thought I had one at first, but I think it was mine."
The victim, according to McDonald, was purple in color.
"I rolled her up on her right side and administered the injection at that time," he said. "Within 20-30 seconds I felt a strong pulse and she began to sweat and gasp for air."
The victim was able to walk to the ambulance on her own power before being transported to Mission Hospital.
The overdose victims were the second and third to be saved by Black Mountain police officers this year after Sgt. Chris Staton saved the life of a woman back in May.
While neither of the August incidents involved local residents, the need for officers to administer naloxone twice in less than three weeks underscores just how serious the opioid epidemic is in WNC, Freeman said.
"The sad part is it doesn't just hurt the victims, it hurts the family member impacted by it," he said.
Saving those lives would not have been possible without Project Lazarus, according to Freeman. The nonprofit organization was formed in 2007 to combat the opioid epidemic through a multifaceted approach, including equipping law enforcement with naloxone.
"One two-pack dosage of those injectors is like $4,800," Freeman said. "We would never be able to afford to equip our officers with those if it wasn't for them."
The incidents show that even though Black Mountain is a small town, it faces many of the same problems larger cities do, mayor Don Collins said.
"Even though we're one of the safest cities in North Carolina, we have our fair share of issues," he said. "In these two situations our police officers were prepared and acted quickly to save lives. I'm proud of our department, it's excellent."
McDonald and Ammons were each presented with a life-saving medal from the town, as well as a certificates recognizes their efforts. They received a standing ovation from the board, mayor and everyone who attended the meeting.
"We do everything we can to protect the people in our community," McDonald said of his actions that day. "I couldn't imagine doing it anywhere else."