The Montgomery County fire chief approached me about this story last week and said, “hey, this is a real problem. My guys are going on calls for heroin overdoses more often these days. It’s surprising.”
So we looked into the problem, I talked to EMS crews about the calls they’re getting and what they’re seeing. I also spoke to firefighters who say the real problem is the stigma surrounding this dangerous drug is gone, and the problem is only going to get worse.
It’s a drug we’re hearing more and more about these days – and one that’s impacting every community in our area, especially Montgomery County: Heroin.
Heroin use is far from a new problem, but it is a growing one, one that is exceeding all socio-economic boundaries in Montgomery County.
“They just say, ‘we ran another one,’ they’ve noticed it,” that’s the reaction Montgomery County Fire Chief, Mike Hamilton says he gets from his crews about the increase in overdose calls.
“It’s above what we would normally run,” says Chief Hamilton. “The stations are running several a day.”
The exact numbers are hard to pin down, but a good indication is how much Narcan firefighters are using. Narcan is a medication given to counter-act the effects of heroin overdoses. Narcan use is up by 9 compared to this time last year. To be fair, it’s also used on people with other medical issues and overall call volume is up. But compare that statistic with what firefighters say they see on the streets, it’s clearly a problem.
Firefighter Nate Stoner says he’s noticed the trend for a few months now. “I don’t have a reason other than it’s cheap and easy to come by,” he says. “It’s been going on for a while, it’s not necessarily the past couple of weeks, we’re talking months and really a build up over the last 2 years.”
As for why the jump, that’s subjective. “I think you have individuals who are being treated for pain issues and during that time either they don’t have a prescription or lack of funds, and heroin is unfortunately a cheap and easy alternative,” says Stoner.
Another problem firefighters see, the drug is everywhere. “It’s not even isolated to a specific area, it’s happening all over the county,” says Captain Bob Lindsey, who is also the Quality Improvement Officer for Montgomery Coutny Fire and EMS.
Captain Lindsey says he thinks we are seeing more heroin use because the stigma surrounding the drug is gone. “We used to run folks all the time in the back alleys or the homeless, down-and-out kind of folks, heroin is being used by high school students, soccer moms, used by dads that are attorneys.”
There is no ‘typical’ drug user these days. Not surprising to people we talked to in Montgomery County.
“When you get students who are willing to try anything that’s not really surprising for me,” says Danielle Gourdine.
On Twitter, Dan, who is also a nurse, says: “Living in this epidemic daily. It’s getting worse.”
Last year, Governor Larry Hogan announced $2 million-dollars in funding for a state-wide heroin-treatment program.