59 News Special Report: Opioid crisis drains medical resources

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BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — The call comes in over the radio. It is an unresponsive patient.
The Beckley fire department is dispatched. They know what to do.

Lt. Chris Graham with the Beckley Fire Department has taken more than one of these calls.

“A lot of times those are overdose calls, where we may have to Narcan and do CPR on someone to bring them back,” Graham said.

They are prepared because they receive a call like that one one to five times a day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia carries the highest opioid death rate in the country by a landslide.

EMT’s, like the ones with the Beckley Fire Department, are working harder than ever to keep that death rate down. But in most cases, the call to 911 is not made. The patient is brought by car, straight to the emergency room.

Michael Long is the Emergency Room Nurse Manager at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital and explained the resources it takes to help a patient like that.

“It takes staff to get them in, it takes staff to get them stabilized because generally if they have overdosed, they are not breathing,” Long said.

That patient ties up a considerable amount of ER staff. If they do not act fast, the drugs will kill them. Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital’s Emergency Room deals with multiple overdose cases each day, tying up the staff and filling the beds.

“They can be dead within the matter of seconds. So, yes that does unfortunately take priority over other things,” Long explained.

That makes the dreaded ER wait times even longer. Not only does dealing with the opioid crisis use up resources, it also puts people working in the medical field in danger.

“We take that chance every day when we walk in the door,” Long said.

The EMT’s in the field have to be weary they do not come in contact with the drug themselves.

“A lot of times you may go into an area where the person may have drugs on them, on their body. They may be making drugs in the residence and we’re in that environment and we can be subjected to that. It gets on your skin and you can absorb it through your skin,” Graham said.

Beckley firefighters carry a second supply of Narcan just for themselves if an emergency like this happens. Staff in the emergency room also have that concern and have to be prepared.

They put themselves in danger and spend their energy and resources to save the victims of the opioid epidemic, knowing this may not be the last time that patient overdoses. They still work hard to get that patient the long-term help they need.

BARH is starting a program to provide pure recovery coaches in the ER.

Beckley Firefighters have already kick started a program to hopefully lower the number of overdose cases they deal with each day.

“We have teamed up with FMRS. So if we have an overdose, we try and send the address and the name of that person to FMRS. They keep everything confidential. Then they go to them within 72 hours to get them help,” Graham explained.

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