As a top agent with North Carolina’s Bureau of Investigation, Donnie Varnell had tried everything to stop people from fatally overdosing on opioids, from arresting more low-level drug users to talking with doctors. Nothing worked.
In 2014, he heard a former SWAT commander speak to law enforcement officers about carrying the opioid antidote naloxone.
“I’ve arrested more people than you can put on a cruise ship,” Varnell said, recalling the speech. “But the message — and the messenger — resonated with me. He spoke cop. But he also had ideas, programs and studies. I could see naloxone wasn’t dangerous.”