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Drugs, an ever increasing plague

By Eugenia Jones

Part 2

EMTs face a unique set of obstacles when they respond to drug overdose calls.  A fairly consistent side effect from drug overdoses is that patients, if conscious, are frequently combative and fight those who are trying to provide immediate life-saving treatment.  Those who overdose may also exhibit paranoia or hallucinate, making the administration of treatment even more difficult.

Because of the combative nature of many who overdose, EMTs actually have protocols in place that allow them to use soft restraints or chemical restraints (sedation) if a patient endangers themselves, the EMTs, or others.

Additional complications arise when individuals “shoot up” with needles.  McCreary EMS has encountered drug related situations such as an individual who shot meth into an artery instead of a vein, effectively giving himself a heart attack.  Those who shoot up often destroy their veins either by causing the veins to harden or totally collapse.  Once this happens, it becomes almost impossible to insert an IV to administer needed treatment.

Being an EMT and dealing with drugs in a small community comes with the added agony of dealing with patients considered as friends and family by the EMTs.

“I think it is harder for us emotionally when we respond to drug overdose situations here in a small community,” EMS Director Barnett said.  “Unlike in bigger cities, we know everyone here.  We are responding to people we either know personally or we know their families.  We respond to people we went to school with.  It’s hard.”    

Barnett said EMS often responds to calls from drug houses.  Typically, individuals in these locations will scatter when EMS arrives.  This puts the EMTs in situations of knowing patients have overdosed but without a clue as to what types of drugs are involved.

“One man carried a girl into the ambulance station,” Barnett recalled.  “He laid her on a stretcher and walked out.  She had been dead for a bit.  He carried her in and left because he didn’t want people at his home.”

Numbers do not begin to illustrate the seriousness of the drug problem in McCreary County.  So far this year, records indicate McCreary EMS responded to 18 calls specifically identified as overdoses.  They responded to 82 specific overdose cases in 2021.  However, these numbers do not reflect the many drug-related EMS responses to situations documented as “patient is unresponsive” or ones where the 911 caller does not specifically identify the call as being related to a drug overdose.

Unresponsiveness and shallow breathing are critical symptoms for any overdose and particularly in cases involving prescription (as were confiscated during last week’s local bust) or illicit opoids.  According to the CDC, “Prescription opioids (like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine) and illicit opioids (like heroin and illegally made fentanyl) are powerful drugs that have a risk of a potentially fatal overdose. Death from an opioid overdose happens when too much of the drug overwhelms the brain and interrupts the body’s natural drive to breathe.  During an overdose, breathing can be dangerously slowed or stopped, causing brain damage or death. It’s important to recognize the signs and act fast. Signs include:

-Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”

-Falling asleep or loss of consciousness

-Slow, shallow breathing

-Choking or gurgling sounds

-Limp body

-Pale, blue, or cold skin

It may be hard to tell if a person is high or experiencing an overdose. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to treat it like an overdose— you could save a life by following the procedures listed below:

-Call 911 immediately.

-Administer naloxone, if available.  Check with physician for prescription so naloxone is available if needed.

-Try to keep the person awake and breathing.

-Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.

-Stay with him or her until emergency workers arrive.”

In addition to opiates, last week’s drug bust netted THC infused gummies and sixty pounds of marijuana.  While some states have legalized medical and, and in some cases, recreational marijuana, marijuana remains illegal in Kentucky.  During this year’s legislative assembly, a bill legalizing marijuana for medical use did not pass. Marijuana consists of the dried leaves, flowers, etc. from the cannabis plant.  THC is the main psychoactive agent in marijuana. 

Although both are in the same species, hemp plants are distinguished from cannabis plants by the amount of THC present in the plants.  Hemp has 0.3% or less of THC while marijuana has a THC content greater than 0.3%. CBD, a second component present in hemp and cannabis, does not intoxicate or produce a “high.”  CBD is thought by many to have potential therapeutic benefits.  Kentucky’s 2014 Farm Act renewed hemp as a crop and eventually led to an industrial hemp pilot program.  In 2017, the Kentucky legislature passed HB 333 which largely allows the sale and use of hemp-derived CBD with a maximum THC content of 0.3%.

Consumers should be extremely careful when purchasing CBD “gummy” candies or other CBD products.  If CBD gummies or other products are purchased, it is important to be cautious, read package labels, and observe regulations.  It is legal in Kentucky to possess any amount of CBD-as long as the product is hemp derived containing less than 0.3% THC by weight.  However, the possession of any amount of CBD (even medical) derived from cannabis (with THC greater than 0.3% by weight) is illegal.  It is important to keep CBD gummies safely away from curious children and adolescents who might mistake the gummies for regular candies. 

Courtesy of MCSO
The drug bust of April 20, 2022 led to the arrest of James Murphy and the seizure of a large amount of cash and drugs. Sheriff Randy Waters took the cash to United Cumberland Bank where it was deposited into the Sheriff’s seizure account. A total amount of $213,668 was seized and deposited. Also seized was over 60 pounds of marijuana, significant amounts of oxycontin and oxycodone and firearms. The bust was the culmination of a three year investigation conducted by McCreary Sheriff Waters and Deputies with the help of the Lake Cumberland Drug Task Force, the Kentucky State Police, Fish and Wildlife, and U.S. Forest Service.

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