While fentanyl has been getting a lot of press lately, heroin is still just as deadly among drug users, with fatal overdoses averaging to be about one each day in Maine. The number of fatal overdoses in the area is soaring, from 57 deaths in 2014, to nearly double that number (108) the following year. While the numbers have yet to be compiled from 2016, it is believed that the number of heroin-related deaths is going to be even higher than it was the year before.
First responders and police are often the first ones to have to deal with overdose situations, and as Portland's Police Chief, Michael Sauschuk, points out, this is a red flag that not enough is being done insofar as prevention and education before it gets to the point that users are overdosing. Like Sauschuk says: "…if we want to truly change [the] culture and…the way we approach these issues [then] we have to work that three-legged stool: prevention, treatment, and enforcement."
He also says that we have to act quickly, and that more funding must be contributed and more folks must be committed to long-term recovery for addicts if we are going to see this epidemic turn around anytime soon. Sauschuk added that the current epidemic is the worst one he's seen in his entire career, which spans nearly 20 years.
The thing is, when EMTs are called to the scene, they have a five-minute window in which to save the person's life. If the EMT can get to the person in time and administer that much-needed dose of Narcan, then the person's life can be saved. But that is an incredibly short window of time in which to work.
Police and first responders in Maine and in various locations across the country are enrolled in classes that train them on how to administer Narcan.
Unfortunately, learning how to use Narcan has become just as vital as learning how to administer CPR for those who arrive first on the scene to these incidents. In Portland, every patrol officer has Narcan on his person, but like Sauschuk says, Narcan is not the answer, it's just a "Band-Aid "on the real problem. Long-term treatment involving detox is the right answer.
It's not an easy job for those officers who must respond to overdose calls. Some end up suffering from PTSD as a result of what they see, or because they simply couldn't save the person in time. Sauschuk's teams are always looking for signs of PTSD among their peers. Such signs can include difficulty sleeping, mood swings, and restlessness.
While Sauschuk emphasizes that his officers want to help people, these people can only truly be helped by attacking the root of their addictions, not just continuing to revive them every time they suffer an overdose. Sauschuk is passionate about the fact that the state needs to work more diligently and quickly in order to establish the prevention programs that are necessary in helping addicts with their fight.