On the front lines: Knoxville paramedic crews battle opioid epidemic

Local News

To say the opioid problem in Knox County is still a problem would be an understatement.

According to the Knox County Drug Related Task Force, 293 deaths were linked to opioid overdoses in 2017. This year, 253 lives have been lost with six of those coming during the first seven days of November.

This problem has been extremely evident than with the paramedic crews of the Knoxville Fire Department.

“The opioid epidemic has increased our run volume significantly.” said senior firefighter and paramedic A.J. Spoone. “I don’t believe that anybody ever anticipated this becoming this large of an epidemic.”

Overdose cases are becoming more and more common, a sight they see too many times and in too many places.

“In their car, the restaurants, the sidewalks, streets, houses elevators. This happens everywhere,” says Spoone. “It has no age, it has no gender, it has no race. It’s a true epidemic.” 
Numbers supplied to us by KFD support Spoone’s claims. In 2015, fire crews administered opioid-overdose antidote naloxone 52 times to overdose patients. One year later, that number rose to 122 times and in 2017 the numbers jump to 403.

This year, through the month of September, KFD crews have already administered naloxone 320 times.

“Years ago we gave a very low dose of Narcan. Now, we’re up to eight or nine times what we used to give,” says Capt. John Lins.

“Typically, when we respond and we arrive on scene, the person is only breathing three to four times a minute,” adds Spoone, “It’s very critical that we only have a couple of minutes to make that difference.”

Helping crews make that difference is a simple apparatus called the MAD device.

“The thing about the MAD device is it can be administered within 30 seconds,” says Spoone, “It goes right into the nostril and we administer the medication that way. It’s almost like flu mist.”

“We can get the medicine on board quicker with the new MAD device instead of taking the time to start an IV like we did years ago,” adds Lins, “Typically, it only takes two to three minutes for them to come out of the overdose. We’ll see them start to perk up and become alert and oriented.”

While crews fighting the epidemic on the front lines are becoming better equipped to help their patients, the emotional impact on those fighting the epidemic is lasting says Spoone.

“The emotion that you feel with it is, you feel sorry for them. You want to do everything that you can to help them,” he said.

Lins agrees with that feeling.

“There’s quite a few times we get back on the truck and rubbing our heads and wondering, you know, why?”

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