Sheriff wants law to require medical staff to report overdoses to authorities

There’s a loophole in the state statute that requires health care facilities to report suspicious injuries caused by a firearm or other dangerous weapon to authorities. The law leaves out one of the most lethal threats that authorities encounter these days, namely drug overdoses. And the top law enforcement officer in Olmsted County aims to do something about it, according to the Post Bulletin.

Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson has been gathering support to require medical facilities to report suspected overdoses to law enforcement.

The push stems from an increase in overdose deaths reported in Olmsted County. In 2020, the county reported 30 overdose deaths, almost double the reported 18 deaths in 2019, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.

“We want to be notified so we can hopefully do an investigation and find some justice for the victim,” Torgerson said.

The way the law sits right now, by the time law enforcement is notified of an overdose, it may be too late to pursue charges against the person who supplied the drugs, according to Torgerson.

The statute on mandatory reporting by healthcare professionals focuses only on “suspicious wounds.”

A health professional shall immediately report, as provided under section 626.53, to the local police department or county sheriff all bullet wounds, gunshot wounds, powder burns, or any other injury arising from, or caused by the discharge of any gun, pistol, or any other firearm, which wound the health professional is called upon to treat, dress, or bandage.

A health professional shall report to the proper police authorities any wound that the reporter has reasonable cause to believe has been inflicted on a perpetrator of a crime by a dangerous weapon other than a firearm…

With drug overdoses and deaths soaring statewide, the southern Minnesota sheriff says it’s vital to expand required reporting by doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to include drug-related incidents. He views it as a practical way to get investigators involved as soon as possible in tracking down the suppliers.

Torgerson is seeking changes to the language so that when someone is treated at a health care facility for a suspected overdose, they will be required to report it to law enforcement.

“We’re at the beginning phases and just talking about it,” he said. “We got to find a way to get ahead of this thing somehow. I feel like we’re way behind it right now and we’re just kind of treading water.”

It’s too early to tell where health care professionals come down on the proposal to allow law enforcement to get involved in investigating cases involving drug overdoses more expeditiously. But one key medical official expressed concern over the stigma that could result from cases becoming public.

The Minnesota Medical Association doesn’t have a specific stance on changing reporting requirements, according to [Minnesota Medical Association president Will] Nicholson, but the association is looking into reviewing opioids, which he called a huge challenge in the state.

“We would never want to put any burden or barrier between life saving medical care and that person,” he said. “At times, fear of getting into trouble can be a barrier, and I would hate to have that result in someone not getting care when they could have and having a bad outcome because of that.”

Yet the idea of speeding up the process of investigating the suppliers behind the rash of drug overdoses and deaths has attracted the attention of state Senator Carla Nelson, R-Rochester.

She was intrigued by Torgerson’s proposal to change reporting requirements and wants to start the conversation in the Legislature.

“My sense is, the reason this would be helpful would not be because of the person who is showing up in the ER, but for the traffickers, the dealers, people who are pushing these drugs that are killing Minnesotans,” Nelson said. “We want people to come in, we want them to get help immediately if they’re having an overdose but specifically, we want to go after the people who are peddling this poison.”