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Nashville EMTs Carrying more Narcan to Battle Overdoses

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The opioid drug crisis continues to plague states across the country, including Tennessee.

First responders in Nashville recently showed News 4 a key weapon they’re now using in a daily battle to save lives.

“And just like if I hold my breath, eventually, I have to take a breath. I feel it. I have to. I need it,” said Chris Gallimore, an EMT with the Nashville Fire Department. “That’s the way they feel about their drug of choice.”

Nashville Fire Department paramedics have seen the effects of people abusing opioids time and time again. It’s a terrible, vicious cycle that all too often ends in death.

“If it’s a bad overdose, the person could be unresponsive, could be barely breathing. They would be pale in color,” said Weston Brinkerhoff, a paramedic.

Recently, they got bigger supplies of Naloxone, also known as Narcan, to reverse the dangerous effects of a drug overdose.

“Up until last year, we carried four Narcan doses. And now, we’ve had to increase our number of Narcan up at least 10 doses per ambulances,” said Joaquin Toon, an EMT.

Narcan can be administered by nose, intravenously, or injected into the muscle, and it works fast.

“And within a matter of minutes, they’re waking up and talking to you,” Gallimore said. “And a lot of times they say I’m sorry, of they don’t know what happened. The last thing they remember was feeling great.”

If patients are lucky enough to survive, they may end up in a treatment program.

At Addiction Campuses near Nashville’s West End, dozens of trained treatment specialists answer phones, providing a real lifeline for people addicted to drugs, including opioids.

“I mean, I’ve called people and talked to their folks and gotten them ready to go to treatment. And then the very next week when they’re planning on going, I call back and their son or daughter has OD’ed. That’s happened to me twice, so I don’t want to lose anyone else,” said Greg Stone, a treatment specialist.

In 2016, Tennessee was the third highest prescriber or opioids. Experts say there were more opioid prescriptions than people in the state. They say that is a potent recipe for drug abuse.

A treatment specialist at Addiction Campuses told News 4 he once spoke to a woman who said she had traded her baby for drugs.

TJ Pass is a recovering addict and training specialist at Addiction Campuses in Nashville.

“So I’m laying on the couch, I’m hurting. I know if I take a pill I won’t hurt anymore. Then I go get the pill from the person I found on the streets that as them. But they’re out of the pill, but they have a drug called heroin. And I say I would never use heroin, but I’m hurting so bad. My brain says, but this will make us feel better,” Pass said.

Pass said the “opioid grip” is why it’s important for addicts to recognize they have a problem and reach out for help.

One treatment specialist uses sticky notes to form a heart that contains the names of all the callers she has helped save. It also serves as a reminder that someone cares and that no one can break the cycle of drug addiction alone.

“No one chose to go down the path to be a prescription drug user or heroin user or anything like that. And so not understanding how that affects them or how that feels, I can’t judge them,” Gallimore said.

Nashville fire officials said they have nearly 30 ambulances on the streets right now carrying Narcan. The drug costs an estimated $60,000 to $65,000 a year.

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