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Arkansas toddler saved by Narcan after swallowing pill left out

The 2-year-old is Arkansas' youngest person saved after swallowing a pill left out by his mother.

TEXARKANA, Ark. — Officer Marcos Luna knew he had to be doubly careful as he responded to a medical call on Valentine's Night in Texarkana, Arkansas. A snow storm was bearing down and the potential overdose victim he was dispatched to help was just a baby.

"I knew, on an adult, it would have no negative effect," said Luna, an officer with five years experience on the Texarkana force in the city that straddles the state line between Arkansas and Texas. "The last thing I wanted to do was make the situation worse."

"It" is the drug noloxone, the rapid response medicine with the brand name Narcan that can reverse a drug overdose. He had been trained to use it and had seen how quickly it works on adults, but this run required a cautious call to his boss.

"It was a Sunday night, Valentine's night. I was actually at home with my family," said Lt. Zach White on the out-of-the-ordinary call he got from Luna, who knew not to bother his off-duty commander. "He told me we had a 911 call of a 2-year-old overdosing on his mom's Percocet."

Lt. White assured officer Luna there should be no problem, but start with just one dose and report back.

Luna hung up and focused on driving and braced for the scene he knew would be waiting. He also knew the same snow would delay the ambulance.

"You have parents knowing that they're potentially going to lose their child, and that's something you don't wish on your worst enemy," Luna said.

His police report says he found a surprisingly calm father and a very nervous mother along with a fellow officer who arrived moments before him. The mother said she didn't normally stay at that apartment and had brought just enough of the prescription painkillers to get through an overnight stay. She didn't bring an entire bottle. As she laid down, she left one pill out, and the boy managed to eat it.

"At first he was drifting in and out of consciousness," Luna said. "He would respond to light and rubbing his sternum, but he was deteriorating. I asked the other officer to step aside and I stepped in there."

Across town, Lt. White, and now his wife, waited anxiously for a report from Luna. He turned on his radio and asked if he had used the Narcan yet.

"It was just silence. I mean nobody was talking," said Lt. White. "We share the radio frequency with Texarkana, Texas police and it was like everyone in the city on both sides of the state line was just on the edge of their seats."

On a still, snowy night, the few minutes of silence over the radio seemed to last all night.

But then just past 10 o'clock, Luna responded.

"Be advised, he's coming to," the officer called out. "Ten-four, out here the child came through and he's being transferred to Wadley [hospital] by Lifenet."

"It was just.. .really it was just joyous," said Lt. White.

Luna says he's never been happier to see a normal 2-year-old temper tantrum.

"Ahhh, it was good to see," he said. "With so much stimuli going on, he was crying and cranky and everything but it was so much better from where he had been just moments prior."

The incident has been ruled accidental and no one was arrested or cited, but social workers with the Dept. of Human Services were alerted. A spokesperson for DHS said the agency is prohibited by law from discussing child maltreatment investigations. 

"We can say Narcan has saved hundreds of lives in Arkansas," said Amy Webb, the DHS communications chief. "Some who overdosed while abusing opioids, but we also see situations like [this one]. It can save the life of someone who accidentally ingested opioids, and we’re so thankful this tool is available."

Webb added that Narcan has saved more than 850 people since 2017 and Arkansas has seen an average of one Narcan save per day since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Police have been unable to reach the mother to ask if she wanted to be involved with this story.

Lt. White sings the same refrain when it comes to Narcan, especially after what is being counted as the youngest person saved by the drug in state history.

"Knowing that it could just as easily been one of our kids that got into an old prescription that was needing this drug, naloxone, really really hit home," he said.

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