St. Charles County paramedics try new approach to opioid overdos -

St. Charles County paramedics try new approach to opioid overdoses

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(Credit: KMOV) (Credit: KMOV)

St. Charles County continues to see a staggering number of opioid overdoses. Now, the paramedics who are often first on the scene of an overdose have found a way to stop the cycle of abuse for some people.

“When you hear crews constantly saying, ‘I ran another call for an overdose. I ran another overdose. We ran another one today,’ suddenly people are thinking, ‘what’s going on?,’” said Lisa Cassidy, a paramedic with St. Charles County Ambulance District (SCCAD) and coordinator for Substance Use Recovery Response Team (SURRT).

So Cassidy came up with a program that sounds simple - when they respond to an overdose, if the patient is conscious, ask them if they want help. If they say yes, a paramedic will call them within 24 to 48 hours after the incident to talk about treatment.

This month marks one year since they started the program and the results are encouraging. Between March and December of last year, 137 people declined the program but 166 people did opt-in. Of those, 104 ultimately met with an assessment counselor.

“We see people begging for help, especially people without insurance who didn’t think they had anywhere to turn,” said Cassidy. “We have to collaborate with agencies inside this area and outside this area to find them treatment. It really does take a village.”

The staggering number of overdoses is wearing on the entire village. According to SCCAD officials, paramedics and city firefighters responded to a total of 606 opioid overdose calls in the county in 2016. That’s more than double the number in 2008.

Cassidy says the growing problem is contributing to “compassion fatigue” within paramedics, which she defines as when caregivers are overwhelmed with responding to the same thing over and over again.

“When you show up on a call and a kid answers the door, a little kid, and leads you to their parent, that’s overwhelming, and it’s hard to shut that off. It’s hard to not take that stuff home with you,” said Cassidy.

She is hopeful the SURRT program will get more people into treatment so they aren’t responding to the same overdoses again and again.

The program earned Cassidy state-wide recognition. She was named Paramedic of the Year by the Missouri Emergency Medical Services Association last July. Additionally, the entire district received national honors with the 2017 AMBY Award from the American Ambulance Association in the category of Community Impact Program.

The accolades aren’t their motivation, they truly want to break the cycle of substance use.

“This disease does not just affect the person with the substance use disorder. It affects everyone in this entire community,” said Cassidy.

That’s why they are also distributing free Narcan kits to families of people who use opioids. The kits include a medication disposal bag and two doses of Narcan. Narcan, the brand name for the generic drug naloxone, is a narcotic blocker and can help reverse the effects of an overdose. It is administered as a nasal spray and while it only works on opioid overdoses, like heroin or painkillers, it doesn’t cause any harm to the patient if they used a different kind of drug. Cassidy says the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction (NCADA) came to them and asked if they would distribute Narcan that was from the MO Hope Grant. So far, they’ve given away more than 100 packs. 

“It’s saving a life until this person is ready to get treatment, and that’s what we are trying to do. That’s the goal. To get these people into treatment and you can’t do that if they’re dead,” said Cassidy.

Cassidy is encouraging other families who have a loved one struggling with substance use to contact the St. Charles County Ambulance District so they can get them Narcan, in case the user overdoses.

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