KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Overdose calls are becoming a routine part of a job for Knoxville firefighters, according to the crew at Station 7 in Lonsdale. They said they will more than likely respond to at least one opioid overdose during their 24 hour shift.
On these calls, they use a lifesaving drug called Naloxone. It reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by helping the person breathe again. In 2015, the Knoxville Fire Department used Naloxone 52 times. In 2016, it more than doubled to 122 times. Just four months into 2017, Knoxville firefighters have administered Naloxone 119 times. The highest number of calls is coming from zip code 37921. Naloxone has been used there 34 times this year so far.
2017 Naloxone doses given by the Knoxville Fire Department
Station 7 is one of the busiest in Knoxville. WATE 6 On Your Side decided to ride along with them for a full 24 hours. Cory Darnell, a firefighter at this station, said medical calls are more common than ones for fire. He said most of the time, it’s for an opioid overdose.
“We expect that today we are going to have to take care of an overdose patient,” said Darnell.
He said they find overdose patients everywhere whether that is in their home or in their car. Firefighters said they are not only using Naloxone more often this year than last year, but they are also increasing the dosage. A couple of months ago, they only needed to use 0.5 milligrams to wake someone up. Now, they are using four to eight times as much.
“The drug they are using is so potent. We use occasionally more than one dose,” Darnell said.
Darnell’s team now carries two boxes of the drug instead of only one, just in case. Zach Headrick, another member of Station 7, has gone on five overdose calls in one shift before. He said they come in at any time of the day.
“I don’t think I realized until I came out in the fire truck how big of a problem it was,” said Headrick.
It’s a problem, he said, that affects all types of people, regardless of economic status.
“We see people in their 70s that have this problem and people in their 20s,” Headrick said.
Headrick is worried abusers are relying on firefighters to save them with Naloxone. He said many of the people they help have been helped before.
“You can’t help but wonder if is someone more likely to abuse it because they know the odds of coming back from an overdose are higher,” he said.
Knoxville Police Department also administers Naloxone. In 2016, officers used Naloxone 36 times. So far in 2017, they have used it 26 times. Knox County Sheriff’s Office patrol officers do not have Naloxone, but a spokesperson for the department says they are working on getting the drug through a grant. Knox County Sheriff’s Office does have Naloxone in the jail but the spokesperson said it has not been used yet this year.