When he began his career in the mid 1980s with the county EMS service, Terry White said calls about a potential heroin drug overdose were rare.
Now, it's a weekly occurrence for first responders, and it's a problem that doesn't seem to be going away.
"The last six months to a year it seems like we're almost going on a steep stair-step to those calls," said White, who is now a director of Effingham City-County Ambulance. "Two years ago, it was very rare. As far as the last year or the last six months, it seems like it's become almost a monthly, if not weekly, issue for people, with anywhere from serious side effects to death."
The eruption of heroin use in recent years has local medical professionals having to find ways to deal with potentially fatal overdoses in patients, which oftentimes leave them unconscious, vomiting or unaware before death, with some patients exhibiting violence even when being brought in for treatment. The best line of defense for medical professionals has been naloxone, an antidote which is injected via syringe which can stop an opiate overdose before it leads to death, with few side effects when correctly administered.
"In my opinion, our best treatments are naloxone and time," said Bob Ingram, director of emergency services and ICU at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital.
Ingram said naloxone is often administered either at the hospital or by EMS professionals before a patient is brought to the ER, but FDA approval for a new version of the drug could put the power to stop an overdose in the hands of anyone. Evzio, a newly approved device similar to the allergy EpiPen, can be used through clothing to administer naloxone and stop an overdose early, without a trained medical professional present. The device provides verbal instructions much like a defibrillator once it is turned on and can be prescribed for family members or caregivers to keep on hand. Ingram said he is skeptical of overall widespread access to naloxone.