Hamilton Co. paramedics encountering opioid overdoses
More than 1,600 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses last year. EMS workers here in Hamilton County face the battle up close.
Many Americans won't be fully aware of the opioid crisis until it hits close to home, but the national emergency has millions of Americans trapped in the tragic cycle.
More than 1,600 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses last year.
EMS workers here in Hamilton County face the battle up close. 14 ambulances run 24 hours a day in Hamilton County. Busy ambulances may answer 15-20 calls per day on a busy day; others may answer 5-10 calls
Channel 3 tagged along with paramedics, Kelly Tornow and Chris Shay in Medic Unit 13. They help serve the downtown area. They say they're relieved they've only answered one heroin overdose in the past month.
"No call is the same. It's never the same day," said Tornow.
Tornow and Shay have 13 years of experience combined. They say having compassion for each call can be hard. It's why they try to take one call at a time.
"Not every day is a bad day we're lucky in our district we don't have to deal with overdoses every day," said Shay.
As opioid overdoses rise, paramedics like Tornow and Shay are taking preventative measures. Their ambulance carries 6 doses of Naloxone, or Narcan. It immediately reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, but a patient may need multiple doses. Tornow says treating overdose patients can be intense.
"If it's a child that got into grandmas pill bottle; is their child abuse or neglect to it? So you get a little flustered with parents that don't keep track of their kids or keep track of the medications or the elderly that don't know what they're supposed to be taking."
"Sometimes you do take things home with you and there's no way around it, but I try and stay active. I know a lot of us do other things outside of work or have other jobs so we're not always constantly thinking about the stuff it is that you see on this job," said Shay.
Hamilton County EMS Director Ken Wilkerson tells us, in the last 30 days they have treated 39 patients with 49 doses of Narcan. Within the last year (Oct 31, 2016 – Oct 31, 2017), they've treated 462 patients with 526 doses of Narcan. During the past year, Narcan was administered by First Responders, prior to EMS arrival, 77 times. First Responders may be law enforcement or fire departments.
But opioids aren't always to blame.
"Sometimes they're getting into blood pressure medications and overdosing on that or antidepressant medications and even things like aspirin or Tylenol," said Shay.
Whatever the case may be, Tornow and Shay says they're prepared to help.
Some pharmacies are now selling Narcan over the counter, but experts are concerned the convenience could be abused.
The public health emergency that President Donald Trump put in place will last 90 days. It can be renewed until it's no longer needed.