The Opioid Crisis: A battle first responders face head on


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCCU) — First responders will be the first to tell you no two overdoses are ever the same.

“It depends on the person," Carle Regional EMS Medical Director Dr. Michael Smith said. "I've had people who are very regretful, tearful, you're very confident they have learned their lesson.”

“Others will unfortunately go back into the cycle of using, and probably in the next week or two we'll be going back to their medical call,” Atwood Police Chief Rob Bross said.

From paramedics to police, reviving someone from an opioid overdose has become part of the day-to-day job. Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug has become one of the most powerful tools on their belt.

Dr. Smith said when it comes to administering Narcan, there’s protocol in place.

“The medical recommendation is that if somebody is sedated enough from opiates that they need resuscitation with Narcan that they need to go to the hospital,” Dr. Smith said.

In Champaign County, law enforcement partners with EMS on all overdose calls.

Dr. Smith said if a person refuses medical treatment, “law enforcement is going to compel them to either be observed in the hospital or in the jail and at that point 99 percent of the people choose to come to the hospital."

Which is the answer police are pulling for, because when it comes to overdose cases they're not looking to make an arrest, but to save lives.

“We've already had two deaths in our area,” Chief Bross said. “We don’t want to make it three or four or five.”

In Atwood, a town of 12,000 people, two fatal overdoses in two weeks doesn’t go unnoticed.

"Once things hit home, everything takes a faster pace,” Chief Bross said.

Soon after, Atwood Police began carrying Narcan.

The officers are trained to administer the drug and let medical professionals take it from there.

According to Dr. Smith, depending on the overdose, a trip to the hospital could mean a stay of a few hours or a few weeks.

At which time, medical professionals monitor the patient’s medical and psychological wellbeing.

“Our hospital's protocol is to connect people who have overdosed with resources so that they can try and get rehab,” Dr. Smith said.

Whether its’ a big city or a small town, those long-term resources can be hard to find.

“Those next steps, what we do with people to get them back to being productive members of their families and society that's where we have challenges,” Dr. Smith said.

Both Dr. Smith and Chief Bross agree it boils down to a lack of funding.

"The State of Illinois, they can give us bicentennial flags for free, but for whatever reason, they can't find funding for mental health or substance abuse,” Chief Bross said.

With limited funds, he said it’s hard to place people in the inpatient treatment centers they need.

"I can guarantee you that there are two families in this town that would like their kids back instead of a bicentennial flag,” Chief Bross said.

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