ASHTABULA COUNTY, Ohio — It’s a scene playing out far too often in our area and across the country, people overdosing on illegal drugs forcing first responders to rush in and try to help. In this “Finding A Fix” report, we show you an up-close look at what EMTs are going through and just how personal the fight is.
“I was born and raised here,” said Jamie Burgett, a paramedic with the Northwest Ambulance District in Geneva. She calls Ashtabula County home, but it's a place that’s been under attack.
“(Taking) care of friends and family and that’s always been really important to me,” said Burgett.
She’s seen too many overdose calls and deaths.
“What we’ve been doing up until this point, hasn’t really been working,” she told us.
OPIOID OVERDOSE DEATHS NEARLY TRIPLE
She’s right. There are so many drugs on our streets that the number of people dying of just opiate overdoses in predominately rural Ashtabula County has gone from 13 in 2018 to nearly triple that number — 34 — two years later, in 2020.
“There was a lot of conversation about what we were doing and what we were not doing,” said Vince Gilbone, the Administrator at Northwest Ambulance District. He’s been an EMT for 40 years. “And what we were doing is riding in and fixing it for the moment, but doing nothing long term.”
In fact, Gilbone said during the peak of the opioid problems and even now, having to revive residents from the constant overdoses is alarming and frustrating.
“We were doing it sometimes three or four times a day and sometimes the same patient three to four times a day,” said Gilbone.
HEALing COMMUNITIES $200+ MILLION STUDY, $66 MILLION FOR OH
“You talk to people and realize that it touches all of us,” said Dr. Rebecca Jackson, a Professor of Medicine at Ohio State University and the Principal Investigator for the $66 million HEALing Communities Study that looks to address Ohio’s overdose issues. “Communities actually are selecting the evidence-based interventions in order to address the kind of the gaps that they have within their care."
The study is a collaboration of academia, community organizations and services to improve opioid education, increase the number of people on treatments, and reduce stigma about opioid recovery. Its overall goal is hefty — reduce overdose deaths by 40%.
“We talk so much in medicine about personalized medicine,” said Jackson. “It really is getting the right treatment for the right people at the right time.”
That’s where Burgett and Gilbone come in. Their ambulance service is part of the HEALing Communities Study helping addicts.
“We have had several people come here and request a kit and there’s no charge,” said Burgett. They are handing out Narcan kits to people either walking up to their station, during their overdose calls, leaving them with a family member or friend, or leaving them for the patient at the hospital.
“I thank them for doing the responsible thing,” said Burgett about what she says to people as they accept the kits.
THE FIGHT HITS CLOSE TO HOME
“I know the neighborhoods I’m going to,” said Gilbone. “I know who the people are and that makes it a little bit tougher to deal with when we’re too late.”
In fact, the drug problem became too personal for the crew. Burgett’s sister Bethany and Bethany’s boyfriend were shot and killed during an argument over drug money in 2011. The killer is still in prison.
“That was something that I never wanted to see another family go through,” said Burgett.
The fight is on with new resources, new studies, and a new way to reduce the harm that opioids and drugs can bring.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides, 'I think I want to get addicted to drugs today,'” said Burgett.
“We now have one more thing that we can do to maybe help,” said Gilbone.
The first wave of the HEALing Communities Study includes nine Ohio counties, including Ashtabula and Cuyahoga. Soon it will expand to other counties in the state as well.