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Naloxone necessary, not panacea for heroin abuse

Charleston Daily Mail photo by Tyler Bell Capt. Mark Strickland, of the Charleston Fire Department, holding a pre-loaded naloxone syringe. The conical top piece is an atomizer used to administer the medicine nasally.
Charleston Daily Mail photo by Tyler Bell
Capt. Mark Strickland, of the Charleston Fire Department, holding a pre-loaded naloxone syringe. The conical top piece is an atomizer used to administer the medicine nasally.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — People overdose on heroin nearly every single day in Charleston. The ones who survive continue to live because they’re administered naloxone.

“I’ve been a paramedic for 16 years, and I saw my first overdose in 2006,” said Capt. Mark Strickland, a paramedic and firefighter with the Charleston Fire Department. He’s one of the department’s rotating shift commanders, orchestrating the response to high-volatility situations, and he’s worked in Charleston for 14 years.

A senior paramedic used that first overdose in 2006 as a lesson.

“‘Boys, pay attention to this,’” Strickland recalled him saying. “‘It’ll be years ’til you see this again.’”

At the time, pills were the go-to fix for Charleston’s junkie population. But, as that drug got shut out, cheap, powerful heroin flowed in to fill the gaps.

“In the last two to three years it’s become a daily occurrence,” Strickland said.

A heroin overdose is instantaneous. The user takes the drug and gets high almost immediately. As they slowly slip out of consciousness, their heart beats slower and slower. They breathe less and less. The lack of oxygen tinges their skin with blue.

Eventually, their heart stops, their brain dies and they’re gone forever.

Dead heroin users are usually found with the needle still in the vein, a makeshift tourniquet hanging limply from their arm.

“There’ll be a spoon or a straw there and they’ll be blue in the face,” Strickland said.

When naloxone is administered, the user comes back to life in a stunning way…

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