For years McCreary County’s “drug problem” centered around pill abuse and methamphetamine.
But due to the crack-down on “pill factories” and limiting access to pseudoephedrine, commonly used in the manufacture of meth, those narcotics are becoming more expensive and harder to find on the ‘streets.’
Those factors are leading a small but marked increase of heroin use among addicts in Kentucky, as it is a now cheaper alternative – and there are concerns the new drug presence will lead to an increase of overdoses as a result.
McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters says meth and pills are still the prevalent narcotics of choice in the county, but he is aware that heroin is starting to make inroads locally.
“Other communities around us have seen heroin use grow, but we haven’t seen much of an impact here – yet,” he said. “We are well aware of the problem, and are keeping vigilant watch for any and all drugs that come here.”
What makes heroin particularly worrisome is an elevated risk of overdose or death when addicts start using heroin, especially if they do not know the purity and strength of the drug and inject it intravenously.
Fortunately, a relatively new medication has already proven to be a lifesaver is in use by the Ambulance Service, and soon local law enforcement officers will be equipped with it as well.
Naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, is a medication that can nearly instantaneously counteract the effects of opiates, such as heroin, by blocking the effect the drug has on the central nervous system.
The medication, which can be given orally, by injection or as a quick nasal spray, has proven to be a vital tool for ambulance crews when responding to a medical emergency where an overdose is a possibility or suspected.
According to data published by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center this past February, McCreary County had only 8 recorded drug overdose deaths between 2011-14. McCreary County Coroner Tim Corder did confirm that if a local victim is transported to a hospital and passes away there, that data is recorded for that county (by comparison Pulaski County had 54 drug overdose deaths for that same period.)
But, Corder contends, the increased usage of Narcan by the McCreary County Ambulance Service is doing what is intended, and saving lives.
“They’re doing their job, and Narcan helps,” he said. “We don’t have many overdose deaths in McCreary County and I believe that is a result of that medication.”
McCreary County EMS/911 Director Jimmy Barnett states if an ambulance crew responds to a call where it is unclear if the victim is overdosing, Narcan is the go-to medication since it is harmless if opiates are not present.
“It is a wonderful medication since it works so fast, and is harmless, he said. “If the person is overdosing this could save their life, and if they aren’t it doesn’t have any negative effects.”
The medication is so effective; Assistant EMS/911 Director Willie Duncan says overdose victims can get upset after a dose is administered.
“People come out of it fighting sometimes,” he said. “They may be unconscious and not breathing, but this brings them back so quickly they don’t realize it. They don’t want us taking away their high.”
“This is truly one of the few medications to instantly reverse something and save someone’s life,” Duncan said.
If administered in time, Narcan blocks the opioid’s depression of the victim’s central nervous system, allowing the patient to breathe normally. The dosage only lasts about 20 minutes, so ambulance crews sometimes have to administer a second dose on the way to a hospital so further treatment can be provided.
New laws now allow individuals to carry a dosage of Narcan, obtained via prescription. This allows families, or drug addicted individuals, to obtain the medication for use in an emergency – as a quick dosage can save an overdose victim’s life.
The Ambulance Service uses grant funding to purchase Narcan for their own use, but another grant fund is going to help provide the medication to local law enforcement agencies for officers to carry.
Roger Owens, of the McCreary County Champions UNITE for a Drug Free McCreary and Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy announced his organization has obtained funding to purchase additional doses of the medication that will be available for McCreary County Sheriff’s Deputies to carry with their emergency kits while on duty – making our local agency one of the first in the state to take advantage of the medication.
The Ambulance Service will provide training for the deputies, and store the medication in a secure location and replace dosages when used.
“I think it is a wonderful tool for all law enforcement officers to carry,” Sheriff Waters said. “If we are the first responders on the scene, a timely dosage of Narcan can mean the difference between life and death for an overdose victim.”