Louisville, Kentucky, overdose capital USA. Or is it somewhere in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or some other rust belt or coal mining city whose economy has been hit so hard by the opioid epidemic? It can vary from week-to-week, as paramedics rush from emergency-to-emergency knowing that 9 times out of 10 heroin will be involved. Its disheartening and disillusioning as they labor on the front lines of the battle, essentially filling sandbags trying to hold back the inevitable flow of a rising tide. Yet, they soldier on, fighting the good fight, until politicians and society arrive at a solution.
Louisville in particular, with a population of 766,000, has been hit hard. Emergency services there can get as many as 40 calls over an average 24 hour period, and they’re not alone. EMS workers and police frequently arrive just on time to administer a dose of Naloxone (most commonly marketed under the commercial name Narcan), which stops opioid absorption in its tracks, provided it’s not already too late. The change in the patient is instant and dramatic, like the scene in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta injects adrenaline directly into the heart of Uma Thurman, to save her character from an overdose. The next stop though, is trying to get them to a hospital, and that’s where the process usually breaks down. Some patients run off fearing arrest, others are belligerent and violent, and most just simply refuse. The overdosed addict, severely in need of therapy, counseling or at the very least a stern reminder from a doctor that they may not survive the next one, goes off, likely to be the reason for another emergency call within weeks.
The cases are overwhelming. EMS and firefighters are now regularly running out of Naloxone mid-shift, ensuring addicts are playing Russian Roulette with their lives, depending on the time of their overdose and available supplies. Some people even need several doses to be revived, one recently required as many as seven. Emergency services are spread thin and other emergency situations are typically put at risk because of something that otherwise feels so preventable. If only something could be done.
Overdoses can occur anywhere; to people in their homes, at restaurants, in movie theaters or parking lots, or even slumped over in their seats awaiting a changing stop light. It’s sad and depressing. People are also getting hooked on more powerful forms of heroin as their tolerance increases, driving up the need for even stronger doses of Naloxone. The rate is alarming. Statistics aren’t going up year-over-year, it’s happening at such a rapid rate that it’s noticeable from month-to-month. It’s hand-to-hand bio-warfare taking place on the streets between the good guys and heroin. Any given night it can easily feel as if heroin is gaining the upper hand.
Yet there’s hope. At a public health building in the middle of Louisville, people gather at a meeting to learn how to administer Naloxone. Many are mothers and fathers of kids who have overdosed, and they’re becoming proactive as a precaution, so they can be ready if their child backslides. They’re also getting counseling on how to be more involved in their children’s lives, a key root issue of addiction. Addicts can’t solve the problem alone, they need love and support. Sometimes that love needs to be tough love. Are you ready to offer it? Are you ready to accept it? Addiction is a disease, but it requires personal willpower and dedication to be overcome. It’s not easy. We can’t afford to wait on politicians, the war on drugs has been waged for decades with no end in sight. We need to be personally accountable for ourselves and our loved ones to make a difference. We need to address the scourge of addiction one individual, and one family, at a time because, in reality, that is what it will take to ultimately turn back the force of this rising tide.