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'People's lives are at stake' — Lincoln police sound alarm after spike in drug overdoses
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'People's lives are at stake' — Lincoln police sound alarm after spike in drug overdoses

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Animation about how Opioids effect the body. Describing the benefits and risks involved.

Lincoln police are sounding the alarm after an intense spate of drug overdoses in recent days affected 10 residents, shining a local spotlight on the national opioid epidemic that has ebbed and flowed from the public's consciousness. 

In an impromptu news conference Tuesday morning, Officer Luke Bonkiewicz described the spike in overdoses in stark and ominous terms, noting that at least some of the victims had meant to ingest cocaine and instead were hospitalized after unknowingly consuming near-lethal amounts of opioids. 

LPD responded to 10 overdoses from Friday through Sunday, Bonkiewicz said, and though none of the victims died, the seemingly indiscriminate spike in calls involving people of different ages prompted Tuesday's warning. 

"Sometimes we think of ourselves as insulated from national trends, but the fact is, we're not," Bonkiewicz said. "We're experiencing people, here in Lincoln — mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, relatives, families, friends — being affected by the opioid epidemic. I mean, these are loved ones who are falling victim to overdoses. It's of concern to us." 

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Over the weekend, officers more than once used Narcan, a medicine used to treat suspected opioid overdose patients in emergency situations, to treat victims, though Bonkiewicz said he wasn't sure exactly how many times the lifesaving drug was used.

Sixty-two of LPD's 358 sworn officers carry the drug in their patrol cars, spread out over different shifts and areas of the city. Officers deployed Narcan seven times in 2020, as Lincoln logged 133 non-fatal overdoses.

The emergency treatment had been used at least five times in 2021 before the spike in calls this weekend. Lincoln Fire & Rescue Capt. Nancy Crist credited LPD's swift responses over the weekend — and the availability of Narcan to officers, which the department hopes to increase — for saving lives.

Bonkiewicz brought attention to a list of the primary roles he said law enforcement should play in responding to the opioid epidemic, both in Lincoln and nationally, placing an emphasis on emergency response and public safety. 

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As departments navigate policing the epidemic, Bonkiewicz said they need to signal to the public an interest in helping victims of overdoses, rather than punishing them. He called on agencies to develop relationships with those who suffer from overdoses that extend beyond an initial encounter with police. 

Bonkiewicz also emphasized the need for departments to dedicate teams of officers to understanding their own response to the opioid crisis while working with agencies in other jurisdictions to collaborate on the matter. And he said officers need to understand how opioids effect the body and mind. 

"Here in the Lincoln Police Department, we're doing all of these things," he said. "I'm not suggesting that our response is perfect. I am suggesting that we're aware of these best practices and making ground in all five of these different areas." 

Bonkiewicz noted that the department's primary concern is the safety of opioid overdose victims and those around them — not policing any narcotics violations that may have led to a medical emergency.

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Nebraska law provides protection against criminal liability for people who report drug overdoses, whether they're the victim or a third party. The statute requires the reporting party to remain on scene and cooperate with both law enforcement and medical professionals. 

"We're encouraging people to do that," Bonkiewicz said. "Because people's lives are at stake." 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or

On Twitter @andrewwegley 


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Breaking news reporter

A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Andrew Wegley joined the Journal Star as breaking news reporter after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in May 2021.

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