BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -
CALLER: “Oh my God. He just overdosed. He’s just overdosed.”
911 DISPATCH: “What did he overdose on?”
911 DISPATCH: “Listen, we have an ambulance on the way. Where is he at?”
It’s become one of the most common calls paramedics receive.
“The heroin type calls have seen a significant increase over the last 3 to 5 years. It’s a daily occurrence for EMS," said Mike Chutz, spokesperson for Baton Rouge EMS.
There's only one thing that can stop an opioid overdose in its tracks, pulling people from the brink of death. It's an opioid antidote called Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan.
In 2017, Baton Rouge Emergency Medical Services administered more than 820 doses of Narcan to more than 600 people. In 2013, they only needed 260 doses.
“I think out of all the medications we carry, it’s probably one of the best top two or three. Many cases when you get to someone and an OD like that, they’re completely unresponsive. Many of them are barely breathing. Once you administer this medication you almost see an instant improvement.”
But paramedics warn this life saving medication is not a cure for the epidemic that still claims thousands of lives nationwide, each year.
"You have to be very lucky if you overdose on heroin or anything along those lines to have a good, positive outcome,” said Chutz.
Those who aren’t so lucky end up the responsibility of East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark.
He’s watched with alarm as the number of deadly drug overdoses in his parish continue to rise each year.
2017 marked a five-year high with 111 deadly drug overdoses.
“Maybe by educating people and by letting them know what we’re seeing, we can see some of those numbers go down,” said Dr. Clark.
But the coroner believes there’s a dangerous gap in care, leaving people struggling with addiction at the mercy of their disease.
“When we talk treatment and it costs money, we’ve got to find that money somewhere, and not everybody may have the money to do it themselves, and that’s where the state has to step in."
"I think there’s plenty of access for treatment. I think that Medicaid expansion has opened up a lot of beds, said Dr. Louis Cataldie, who has worked as an addictionologist for 40 years.
“But here's the caveat, bad treatment is probably worse for than no treatment for some folks,"
As he explains it, there are a wide range of options for treating addiction, from 12-step programs to opioid replacement therapy. The problem is, the medical community can't seem to agree on what's best or most effective.
“If you fit the appropriate patient to the appropriate model, you’re going to have success. But, if you try to impose another model on a patient that doesn’t fit that particular paradigm, you’re going to have problems.”
According to Cataldie, to find the right treatment, you have to understand how addiction changes you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
He explains that addiction quite literally re-wires your brain, making fulfilling that addiction your top drive and priority.
“What you’ve got to do with treatment is number one, allow the emotive part of your brain to heal and allow the executive part of your brain to get back on track so that you’re not just an emotional being, you’re a being that has values, that you can adhere to, and you can have executive function and reason out things.”
For those caught in addiction, there are other dangers hiding between treatment and an overdose.
“In Baton Rouge, we are consistently in the top five cities for new HIV infections and people living with AIDS. We are the epicenter of the modern HIV epidemic in the United States,” said Logan Kinamore, No Overdose Baton Rouge founder.
It is estimated around 15 percent of new HIV infections each year result from intravenous drug use and the sharing of drug equipment.
Kinamore is at the heart of a unique and controversial movement in Baton Rouge. He offers harm reduction services through his non-profit No Overdose Baton Rouge.
For those who are using drugs, he provides sterile equipment, Narcan, and information on treatment programs with hopes of preventing the spread of disease and deadly overdoses.
As a former user himself, it's a personal mission.
“As opposed to trying to force people into abstinence, which often doesn’t work, or criminalizing people or throwing them in prison in an attempt to address drug use in our culture, we empower people with tools to reduce the harms of their behaviors and their lives and to take ownership of their own health,” said Kinamore.
Support is growing for harm reduction programs. State lawmakers paved the way for cities to authorize programs in 2017 and Baton Rouge became the first to protect programs like No Overdose Baton Rouge. Kinamore says this is just another way to slow the heroin epidemic.
“All of the scholarship shows that in communities with strong needle exchange programs and Narcan distribution, not only does the spread of infectious diseases decrease, the incidents of transmission, but people use drugs less. Treatment admissions are higher in communities where there are needle exchange programs, Narcan distribution programs. There’s absolutely no increase in drug use because of these programs.”
Chasing a Fix is a WAFB original documentary airing Saturday, September 13 at 6:30 p.m. only on WAFB.