News 18 Special Report: Age of Narcan

Narcan is being used by law enforcement to curb the side effects of opiate-based overdoses, like heroin. (WLFI Photo)
Narcan is being used by law enforcement to curb the side effects of opiate-based overdoses, like heroin. (WLFI Photo)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – It’s being called one of the biggest drug epidemics across the nation. The rise in heroin continues hitting the streets and homes right here in Tippecanoe County.

It’s a call Tippecanoe County paramedic Nicole Brooks responds to almost every day.”

“It used to not be as common when I first started,” Brooks explained. “It was usually accidental overdoses. Opposed to now, they’re using heroin and meth.”

In the nearly 14 years that Brooks has worked as a paramedic in Tippecanoe County, she said it would be uncommon now to get through a shift without responding to a heroin overdose.

“Some are not repeat offenders,” Brooks explained. “Some are new users or have used for a very long time and got some stuff that was laced with something else.”

It’s become so common to respond to heroin overdoses that Brooks said she’s gotten to know the faces behind the drugs.

“We actually get to know some of these people pretty well,” Brooks said. “Some of our crews can actually give you names and date of births just by looking at them because we’ve seen them so many times. I’ve seen, I know one patient, maybe four or five times in the past year.”

It’s often a devastating scene for first responders.

“A lot of times we get called because the patient isn’t breathing and they’re blue,” Brooks explained. “When we first get there, we provide an air way and we breathe for them.”

Most recently, Brooks said the other life-saving answer has been found in Narcan which is a drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

“We give them Narcan and the Narcan wakes them up the majority of the time,” Brooks explained. “Unless they’ve been down for too long, but most of the time we can give them Narcan and wake them up and they’ll start breathing on their own again.”

Director of Tippecanoe County EMS, Darrell Clase, said Narcan isn’t anything new.

“I’ve been with the service for 18 years now,” Clase explained. “We’ve had it the entire time that I’ve been here. It was one of the medications that we’ve always had within our supply. Up until a few years ago, we didn’t use it very often.”

In 2014, Clase said Narcan was administered 184 times.

It was administered 246 times in 2015; and it’s been administered 314 times, so far, this year.

“Part of the reason we originally carried it was if a patient had an adverse reaction to a medication that we administered,” Clase explained. “That was part of the reason why we carried it. Unfortunately now, with the trend that we’re seeing, it’s become one of our front-line drugs. It’s a drug, like I said, that we use now almost on a daily basis.”

While Narcan is being used every day to save lives in Tippecanoe County, Brooks said sometimes there are complications with the drug if it causes a patient to go into withdrawal.

“With those withdrawals, it can cause seizures, chronic vomiting, uncontrolled vomiting — which then produces another issue that we then have to protect the patient’s airway so they don’t aspirate,” Brooks explained. “They can also become very combative with us. A lot of times they become very combative. They’re usually not very grateful that we took their high away, so to speak.”

However, Brooks said perhaps the biggest problem of them all is that she doesn’t see the heroin epidemic going away anytime soon.

Most law enforcement agencies in our area are now carrying Narcan.

It can also be bought over the counter at some drug stores.

Clase said one of the only law enforcement agencies that does not carry Narcan yet is the Lafayette Police Department.

He said numbers show that because Tippecanoe County EMS is located in downtown Lafayette, response times for both agencies are nearly the same.

Therefore, Clase said there wasn’t an immediate need for both agencies to carry Narcan at the same time.

However, if the heroin epidemic continues to rise, Clase said they’ll re-evaluate whether LPD officers will eventually carry Narcan.