Jan 26, 2014

Drug overdose calls dangerous for paramedics

BY BOB ROBINSON
ASSOC. EDITOR

DARKE COUNTY – “They get mean. They get violent,” said Eric Burns, director of Tri-Village Rescue. “We bring them out of it (a drug overdose), we’re taking away the buzz they paid good money for.”

Burns and Steve Wenning, chief of Greenville Township Rescue… both said one of the most dangerous calls a paramedic can make is on a drug overdose. Darke County Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker agreed; saying there is an element of danger, especially if the person calling doesn’t advise the dispatcher that drugs are involved.

“Our dispatchers are trained to ask,” he said, “but if the caller isn’t saying, we have no way of knowing.” He added now that it’s more common, even if the call is remotely suspicious and an officer is available, one is dispatched along with EMS. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“If we’re aware, or we find, drugs are involved, EMS will be staged so when they do arrive on the scene they will be safe.”

Wenning said over the years some Greenville Township personnel have been assaulted, adding he was once as well. Education Training Coordinator Lt. Bryan Phillips said there has been a definite increase in drug-related calls, especially in heroin. “Our biggest concern,” he added, “is the safety of these crews. They (drug users) are unpredictable and can be dangerous.” It’s the drug talking, he noted.

Phillips noted violence is only one of the safety concerns for paramedics. Another is “needle sticks.” “We have to watch out for the needle they used to inject the drug,” he said. All this while performing necessary life-saving measures. Heroin can close down the airway. The body needs air, the drug won’t let it happen.

Burns said paramedics give them a drug to counteract the heroin. “It takes away the effects of the narcotic instantly; we never know how they’re going to react.”

Drug calls are not the only ones dangerous to paramedics. Assault calls are as well. Burns noted assaults include domestic violence situations, adding when they make the call they never know what led up to the violence.

Phillips said they change the educational needs in the department to keep up with the different types of things paramedics will have to deal with. “A new drug is introduced into the community? We make sure our paramedics are educated.”

Wenning said the people in Darke County need to understand there is a drug problem in their community.

“It isn’t just a city problem. It’s an everywhere problem.” He noted Greenville City Police and Darke County Sheriff’s Department are doing everything they can to combat it; but first residents need to understand it exists.

“You have to acknowledge a problem before you can begin to work on it.”

Greenville Township Rescue made 3,001 emergency calls in 2013. The official number of calls categorized as poisoning/drug ingestion was 13. Tri-Village Rescue made 450 calls in 2013; the official number of “drug” calls reported was 33. According to Jean Buxton of the Versailles Volunteer Life Rescue Squad, their service made 303 calls in 2013, with only two or three being drug related.

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