It can average two or three per day, says an ER physician.
There has been an increase in recent years in the number of patients coming into the Frederick Memorial Hospital Emergency Department with heroin overdoses. “What we’ve seen is an explosion in the number of evaluations for heroin overdose in the ER over last four, five years,” says Dr. John Molesworth, an emergency room physician and the Medical Director of Ambulatory Services at FMH.
He says on average, FMH Emergency Room staff see about two to three patients per day who are suffering from heroin overdoses, with more than 100 per month.
He says in many cases, the heroin these patients use is extremely potent. “There’s a tremendous unreliability with the concentration so you don’t know what you’re getting when you buy it on the street. It could be extremely pure, much more potent, laced with fentanyl or other types of drugs,” he says.
In many cases, Dr. Molesworth says, these patients are dropped off at FMH by another person who is also using the drug. “Typically, they’re not breathing. They may be blue in color. Pupils are pinpoint. Immediately, we start an IV to give NARCAN,” he says. NARCAN is used to counteract the effects of heroin. Law enforcement officers and medics have been trained in its use. “Usually, when you watch the patient, once you give this, you’ll actually see the pupils dilate. They’ll develop very deep respirations, and start to wake within about 30 to 45 seconds. Usually, when they wake, they’re very agitated,” he says.
It’s usually very rare that patients with a heroin overdose die in the emergency room, says Dr. Molesworth. “Most of the people who die from it die in the field before EMS gets there,” he says.
Some people have said addicts can easily go back to their bad habits after they’ve had a bad experience with heroin now that NARCAN is available. “I don’t think it makes it more acceptable,” Dr. Molesworth responded. “But it does need to be more readily available to people that can’t get it at a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. I think you have to lower the threshold for that.”
The Sheriff’s Office says the number of heroin overdoses it handled doubled between 2012 to 2013. The agency says so far in 2016, deputies have responded to 102 heroin overdose which resulted in nine deaths. In 2015, the agency handled 147 overdoses and seven deaths.