Heroin on the front lines | How overdoses are overloading the sy - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Heroin on the front lines | How overdoses are overloading the system

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- People are dying on the streets of Louisville so quickly and so often that emergency responders just can't keep up.

Heroin overdoses are overloading the system, and it could really hurt you the next time you get sick.

MetroSafe dispatchers took 6,879 drug overdose calls in 2016. That's over 2,000 more calls than the year before.

And the calls aren't slowing down, with over 1,000 reported overdoses through mid-February in 2017. 

"It's basically one of our number one calls now,” Steven Smoot, a Metrosafe Communications Specialist, said. 

Overdoses happen so frequently that paramedics say they rarely see a shift without one and sometimes are responding to dozens at a time. 

"It was almost like it wasn't here one day, and then the next day it exploded into the community, and now we're dealing with it on a non-stop basis," said Lt. Jeff Kirby with Louisville Metro EMS. 

With all overdose calls, the clock is ticking.

"You've got between four and six minutes before you're going to start to develop any kind of brain death,” Kirby said. 

It takes a coordinated effort from all of the city’s first responders to fight the heroin epidemic here. 

"The fire department, EMS and police all respond, so that the closest responders get there first in order to save them,” Smoot said. 

"This is a new epidemic, and our training had to be adjusted,” said Capt. Salvador Melendez, Public Information officer for the Louisville Division of Fire.

The tool of choice is Narcan. Paramedics use it to reverse the effects of heroin.

The next step involves transporting patients to the hospital for further treatment and observation.

Louisville emergency rooms are overloaded with overdose patients. University Hospital is where most overdose patients are taken for treatment. 

“Usually, they are pretty sick," said Dr. Martin Huecker, an ER physician at University Hospital. "We sometimes bring them in the trauma resuscitation room so we have to do lifesaving interventions there." 

Those measures can also include another dose of Narcan if needed. Metro EMS administered the drug 2,253 times last year. Doctors, police and firefighters also using the “antidote” drives that number up even higher. 

Once in the ER, doctors run tests and hold the overdose patients for up to six hours, making the wait at some of the city's busiest emergency departments even longer for others who need urgent care.

"It'll clog up radiology, cat scanning, the nursing staff ... so it does create kind of a backlog,” Huecker said. 

Louisville's war on drugs is clearly taxing the city's resources, but it's also impacting the people on the front lines on a deeper level. 

"It just becomes just physically, mentally and emotionally draining, seeing again these people who are basically just dying needlessly,” Kirby said. 

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