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EMS first responders face ugly aftermath of opioid addiction

A Narcan kit carried by the Denver Fire Department.

MATT CHAPMAN
Staff Writer

Opioid abuse is an epidemic that’s ravaging the country and it’s the emergency medical services first responders who often deal directly with the horrors that result from addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin.

“It’s all dangerous,” Lincoln County EMS training coordinator Chad Parlier said. “If prescription medicines are used outside the parameters of the physician’s orders for that musculoskeletal disorder, or whatever it is, it’s dangerous. The illicit drugs like heroin are even more dangerous. You can’t ever really know for sure, unless you’re the one who made the substance, what’s in there. If you get something that’s laced with fentanyl one dose could be lethal. Laws have been passed that limit the ability of doctors to prescribe large amounts of these painkillers and people are finding other ways to get high.”

Prescription and illicit opioid overdoses have quadrupled since the turn of the century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, the opioid epidemic in America claimed more than 33,000 lives and deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides for the first time.

The crisis is nationwide and the abuse of opioids in Lincoln County has escalated in recent years.

Lincoln County EMS has responded to 115 calls over the past 12 months in which the deployment of Narcan was necessary to reverse an overdose of heroin or other opioid-based drugs upon arrival. In 2016, the Lincoln County Medical Examiner’s Office reported nine overdose deaths as a result of opioid abuse.

Narcan, a prescription medicine used for the treatment of an opioid overdose, has recently been made available to law enforcement officers with the Lincolnton Police Department and first responders with the Denver Fire Department in addition to Lincoln County EMS first responders. Since obtaining the overdose-reversal drug in March, Lincolnton police officers have successfully deployed Narcan on multiple occasions.

“In the case of an overdose, this drug needs to be deployed immediately,” Parlier said. “With a behavioral health or substance abuse 911 call you don’t know the safety aspect of the situation so a lot of times law enforcement is dual dispatched and EMS will wait until law enforcement ensures that the scene is safe. With that being the case, if they have the means to deploy Narcan to an individual who is in severe respiratory depression or even respiratory arrest, minutes matter. In some cases minutes are the difference between life and death and that’s why it’s important for these other county agencies to have access to this life-saving medication.”

The Lincolnton Fire Department, South Fork Fire Department and Crouse Volunteer Fire Department will also have access to Narcan in the near future, according to Parlier. Lincoln County Sheriff David Carpenter told the Times-News that his office is actively seeking opportunities for deputies to carry the overdose-reversal medication, but funding is an issue.

Recent legislation that has restricted the ability of physicians to prescribe large amounts of opioid-based painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine has caused addicts to turn to illicit drugs like heroin. In turn, the epidemic has become more deadly with dealers cutting their heroin with synthetic opioids such as carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanil has been found in some mixes of “grey death”, a concoction of opioids that can kill in very small doses.

“It’s an addiction and addicts are going to find a way to achieve that high,” Parlier said. “That’s the reality of it and people have to recognize that they need the help to get off of that medication. For some people it takes a near-death experience, or a loss of family or employment. Some people never realize that they need that help and it ends up taking their life unfortunately. Behavioral health goes hand-in-hand with addiction and that’s a great place for us to start fighting this epidemic. One of our greatest resources in this county is the Partners Behavioral Health Management hub in Lincolnton.”

The hub on 311 McBee Street in Lincolnton is a one-stop mental health complex that includes the Lincoln Wellness Center, Monarch, Alexander Youth Network and Phoenix Counseling Center. The Lincoln Wellness Center is open from 8 a.m.-midnight for crisis walk-ins and drug users in search of help can contact the organization at (704) 732-0018.

Image courtesy of LTN File

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