When Ohio paramedic Brad Burwell arrives at the scene of a heroin overdose, his patients typically are barely breathing or even on the verge of respiratory arrest. They’ve often turned blue. And about 90 percent of the time, the patient will be dripping wet, reports the Mansfield, Oh., News Journal. Well-meaning friends or family members have poured water on them or put them in the shower. They think this might revive them. They’re dead wrong. Burwell says water cannot bring someone out of an overdose, but can cause them to drown. It also can cause emergency responders to slip and make it harder to start an IV or make electrodes stick. Heroin overdoses have become a full-blown crisis in some parts of the U.S., including Middle America cities like Mansfield. In one August week, there were more than 225 heroin overdoses in four counties in four states. Four people died.
In Mansfield, a city of 50,000, the crisis hit hard and suddenly. On Aug. 10, police and rescue squads dealt with nine overdose calls within 40 minutes. On Aug. 12, there were nine, two of them fatal. The people on the front lines of this epidemic — paramedics, police, doctors and others — are overwhelmed. When Burwell, 38, started at the Mansfield Fire Department 10 years ago, overdoses were rare. “Now, when we have an unconscious person, we’re automatically thinking of heroin overdoses,” he said. Burwell expects at least one overdose call per shift; he says, “Heroin is everywhere. It doesn’t have a demographic. Teenagers all the way through middle age, all different lifestyles.” In 2014, the Mansfield Fire Department administered naloxone, which revives overdose patients, 108 times. In 2015, that number jumped to 152. This year, the department has used naloxone more than 200 times.