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Northeast Ohio First Responders Using Narcan At Record Levels To Save People Who Overdose On Heroin And Pain Pills

Lorain police and EMS help a man who overdosed at McDonalds
Lorain police and EMS help a man who overdosed at McDonalds

As the heroin epidemic continues to escalate, Northeast Ohio first responders are being inundated with 911 calls to administer the overdose reversal drug known as Narcan or naloxone.

Lakewood police and fire report a four-fold increase in Narcan use from 45 doses in 2014 to 181 in 2016. Parma fire officials say their use has doubled in that same time period from 166 to 347 doses.

The problem has gotten so bad that some addicts are overdosing at local fast food restaurants.

Just after the Memorial day holiday, I was on a ride-along with Life Care ambulance company in Lorain, when a call came into 911 that a man was unconscious in his green SUV at McDonalds on the edge of town.

 “I was behind (him) getting ready to order my food at McDonalds and he was in front of me,” said Lorain resident, Crystal Champion, who watched as the car in front of her suddenly moved out of line and careened into a patch of woods on the edge of the parking lot.

 “So I’m like oh my god is he ok. So I got out but I was hesitant because I could see he’s jerking he’s overdosing. Then the lady came out and I’m like oh my god he’s overdosing. She told me don’t go up to the car because I don’t have Narcan or anything but that’s the most scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Champion said.

Life Care first responder, Jeff Jones, was first on the scene. He had to push back tree limbs and squeeze his way in the passenger door to put the car in park and  administer the Narcan.

The ambulance and other police arrived a few minutes later and at one point there were five first responders in the car working to revive the man slumped over in the front seat.

“He was a purple blueish color. He was slumped over to the right side,” said Jones about the man he was trying to revive.

 “I tried to get an IV in his hand but due to all the scar tissue from previous use of shooting up heroin it was hard to access there so I went to his external jugular vein on the left side, Jones added.

Within 15 seconds of receiving two doses of Narcan in his neck, the 30-something white male got his color back and became alert but disoriented.  He walked from the car on his own power to a stretcher just outside the waiting ambulance.

Jones said the man admitted to using heroin. Relieved that he was able to save the man’s life, Jones was also angry about what could have happened.

“We are lucky he didn’t hit some small child coming across this street getting their McDonalds with mom getting into the car,” he said.

Life Care EMS, which responds to Lorain, Elyria and Amherst is administering Narcan in record numbers. It jumped from 669 doses in 2015 to over 1,100 doses in 2016.  Jones said they are running through Narcan like water and he wonders if he is helping the people with this disease of addiction or enabling them.

“It’s almost like you are condoning the use of a(sic) illegal narcotic,” he said.

Jones and other Northeast Ohio first responders are torn as the number of overdoses continue to rise. Also adding to the frustration is the increasing numbers of repeat overdose calls from the same address.

The number of repeat calls, which some refer to as frequent flyers, is increasing says T.J. Martin with Parma EMS.

 “We don’t go back not only once, we go back twice, three times and sometime we go back to the same location multiple times throughout the day for different members of the family. We’ve had a mother in the morning who was unfortunately was unable to pull through out of the overdose. We had a son in the afternoon and a daughter in the evening. All from the same family, at the same location,” Martin said.

Heroin is very cheap, said Ricky Fetter, a lieutenant in the Parma fire department.

In some cases, its cheaper than a six pack of beer. And it’s being laced with very powerful and lethal opioids, fentanyl and carfentanil, Fetter said.

Parma is responding to overdose calls with groups of people who have shot up from the same bad batch, he said.

“What happens is they get invited over, with other friends, and they decide they are gonna  do heroin together. It’s sorta called a Narcan party or a Dawn party, after the famous Dawn kit,” Fetter said referring to Project Dawn.

Project Dawn is a statewide program which makes Narcan kits available, with training, to family and friends to help save their loved one in the case of an overdose.

According to the Ohio Department of Health over 1,200 overdoses were reversed with these kits between 2015 and 2016. And in Cuyahoga County some 900 lives have been saved over the past five years, said MetroHealth’s Dr. Joan Papp. MetroHealth coordinates and staffs Project Dawn in the local area.

Addiction is a disease. People will continue to use drugs whether Narcan is available or not, Dr. Papp said.

 “When a person’s administered naloxone it’s because they are on death’s door.  And when we give them naloxone we are saving their life and if naloxone weren’t available they wouldn’t survive and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to recover,” she said.

Tremont resident, Annaliese Mobasseri’s boyfriend is one of those lives saved by a Project Dawn nalaxone kit. Her boyfriend has been fighting a heroin addiction for years. Mobasseri attended the Project Dawn training and has saved his life three time after he overdosed.

 “I have talked to my friends about it and they told me I’m crazy and that I need to walk away and I’m wasting my time. But you don’t give up on someone. You just don’t. I’m not wasting my time. I’m saving someone’s life. Mobasseri said.







Marlene Harris-Taylor
Marlene is the director of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.