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Emergency OD: Answering the call

More people are overdosing and dying from abusing prescription opioid drugs and heroin.

In this special report, ABC 17’s Marissa Hollowed examines what kind of strain it’s putting on families, law enforcement and first responders in mid-Missouri.

“You get addicted to heroin very easily. There aren’t casual heroin users,” said Laura Thurman, program director at Boonville Valley Hope rehabilitation center.

“We are seeing a lot of it. Recently, as of 10 cases I see a week, I would say at least seven are dealing with heroin,” said Drew Moffett of Preferred Family Healthcare rehabilitation center in Jefferson City.

The Midwest has seen a surge in painkiller and heroin abuse and mid-Missouri is no exception.

“We are seeing more and more opioid addiction. We are seeing a lot of heroin,” Detective Tom O’Sullivan of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department said.

It is putting extra work on local law enforcement officers.

“It’s always a challenge. We are always trying to find who’s buying it, who’s bringing it in, who’s using it and we go after these people,” said O’Sullivan.

Responding to overdose calls is one area of concern.

“What we are mainly worried about is our own safety. Whenever you go into a situation, an overdose situation, you never know what you are walking in to,” said Jake Waller, an ambulance supervisor at MU Health.

“They can become very violent, they can start vomiting violently. It can cause you a lot of issues in the back of an ambulance or on the scene,” said Gale Blomenkamp, spokesperson for the Boone County Fire Protection District.

To be prepared for these calls, the Boone County Fire Protection District is now trained to use and carry naloxone or Narcan. Naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The department has had to use it about a dozen times in the last year and a half. It costs about $50 a kit. The department has about 70 of them.

Administering the right dose can be tricky.

“it’s very difficult, it’s hard to see that. It’s hard to get that perfect amount,” Blomenkamp said.

“Our goal is to get that patient breathing on their own so they can maintain their own airway but not necessarily give them too much that it wakes them up,” Blomenkamp said.

Too much naloxone can wake up the overdoser quickly. The subject can get violent and try to attack if they wake up too quickly.

“Not every time we get there, we can reverse it. It may be too late,” said Blomenkamp.

The department says most of the time it’s able to save the patient, but that’s not enough.

“This was a very short fix, there is a long process that needs to happen to get them the help that they need. And then do they have the resources to do that? That’s really what bothers me the most. I know what these families are going to go through, or what they need to go through, but do they have the resources to do it?” Blomenkamp said.

Two mid-Missouri rehabilitation centers say they charge anywhere from $8,000 to $10,500 a month for treatment. Insurance can also cover part.. Plus, certain mid-Missouri facilities get state grants and private donations to assist patients.

Typically one run in rehab is not enough.

“The average is about seven times and that’s not just here. That’s the national average,” Moffett said.

“A lot of people want to get their last high before they come in to treatment. But, the thing with heroin, it actually could be their last high,” Moffett said.

“Many of these people that are overdosing are taking what’s being called too hot a load. It hasn’t been cut significantly. Back in the ’70s when heroin was popular, dealers would cut it with lactose and it would reduce its potency,” O’Sullivan said.

“It’s so lethal, it’s so lethal,” Thurman said.

Heroin and other opioid deaths are spreading across all social and economic levels in mid-Missouri.

“There’s rarely a week that goes by without somebody dying. You go to these funerals. There’s not this special type. Loving families, caring families. How does this happen?” Thurman said.

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