Utah officers sickened by drug busts find help
By Pat Reavy
PROVE, Utah — For 22 of Stan Eggen's 26 years with the Provo City Police Department, he worked in narcotics. Eggen, a founding member of the Utah County Major Crimes Task Force, made dozens of methamphetamine-related drug busts every year.
During the task force's first year of operation in 1996, agents shut down 47 meth labs.
Today, Eggen is mostly retired but still does part-time work with the Santaquin Police Department. He suffers from some muscle spasms and lung problems, likely a result of years of exposure to toxic chemicals found in meth labs.
Although Eggen is feeling some of the effects of the dangerous chemicals, his life is going well. This week, he will be married to Tammy Wright.
But some co-workers and colleagues of Eggen who also have worked in narcotics during their law enforcement careers haven't been as fortunate. In fact, Eggen says nearly every member of the task force has suffered health problems. A few have even died.
In 2006, Utah County sheriff's detective Trent Halladay, who had helped bust about 150 meth labs during his career, died of liver cancer at age 37. In May 2005, Midvale police detective Jose Argueta, 32, died of esophageal cancer. Like his law enforcement colleagues, he, too, was responsible for keeping the public safe by shutting down meth labs. In January 2005, a rare form of cancer claimed Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy Jade Pusey.
Hundreds of officers from across the state attended the funerals of each man. It was during Halladay's funeral that Wright thought about what could be done to help other officers who were suffering from the same effects.
"Why can't we find a positive reason to get together?" she asked herself as she looked at all the officers present.
That's when Eggen and Wright came up with the idea to turn one of the best events in their lives into something even more positive. In lieu of wedding gifts, the couple is turning their reception into a fund-raiser and asking people to donate to the Utah Narcotics Officers Association Benevolent Fund and Utah Meth Cops Project.
"We've had over 600 special days. It's more than just the wedding," Wright said. "Realizing these officers are out of special days ... if you can give these officers one more special day, it's all worth it.
"Every little bit helps. It's a way to thank these guys who are out risking their lives for us everyday."
On Wednesday, Eggen and Wright were honored and presented with a $5,000 donation during a press conference to honor those who have helped officers who are battling the ill effects of meth.
Last year, the Utah Labor Commission agreed to use $500,000 designated by the Legislature over the next two years to study whether cancer and other diseases are a result of public safety employees' working conditions, which would make them eligible for workers compensation benefits. Specifically, they want to find out if exposure to meth labs conclusively can be linked to the deaths and illnesses of these officers.
While the move to study the effects was applauded, some argued that something also needed to be done in the short term for officers who are suffering and can't wait for the results of a two-year study. That's when Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff heard about the New York Detoxification Project, which was used to treat Ground Zero rescue crews who became sick.
The program includes patients taking a vitamin cocktail and then sitting in a sauna for several hours at a time, where they literally sweat the toxins out of them.
"His towel smelled just like cat urine," Shurtleff said of one Utah officer who had just completed a detox session.
The detoxification program hasn't been without controversy or skeptics. But those who have gone through the program said they have felt a noticeable change. Eggen is on the waiting list to get into the program.
Utah Department of Public Safety Lt. Al Acosta was a narcotics officer for 13 years in Utah beginning in 1990.
"I can actually say I have not had a single muscle spasm and no headaches (since completing the treatment)," he said. "I can actually sleep at night. I'm feeling good about myself."
Seven Utah officers who received funding from the state have completed the detox program, and another three are undergoing treatment. The Utah Fraternal Order of Police is asking the state Legislature to approve funding for 20 more officers to go through the program at a cost of $7,000 per cop. There are about 100 Utah law enforcement officers on the waiting list to receive treatment.
"Too many are sick, too many are dying," Shurtleff said, "only because they were out there protecting you and me."
Copyright 2007 Deseret Morning News
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