Mental health, first responders team up to battle opioid abuse

Published 9:39 am Thursday, June 29, 2017

Warren-Yazoo Mental Health is seeking more than $200,000 in federal funds for programs to deal with opioid addiction problems in Warren and Yazoo counties.

Don Brown, deputy executive director of Warren-Yazoo, said the organization has filed a proposal with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health to receive a portion of $3.6 million in grant funds awarded to the state by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which funds alcohol and drug treatment programs.

“They put out about $400 million lately for states to apply to work with the opioid epidemic,” Brown said.

Part of the grant, he said, will help serve the people in the community “by doing some outpatient, individual and hopefully some residential treatment for folks that want to try and get into recovery.”

The grant will also be used to provide the Vicksburg Fire Department’s ambulance service and police and sheriff’s deputies with the drug Narcan, which counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose and brings a patient back to consciousness.

Brown, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace and Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong said opioid abuse is growing in the area.

“This drug problem has swept this country real bad over the last few years, and it’s getting worse by the day, and there have been several proven deaths related to overdose,” Armstrong said.

“I believe the overdose crisis we’re seeing with the true narcotics and semi-synthetic narcotics is something that unfortunately we saw coming 15 or 20 years ago, as we began to see a rise in the misuse and abuse of pain medication,” Pace said.

Pace said pain medication misuse and opioid addiction is second to marijuana in the county.

“Right now, on any given day, out of the 21 people we have in primary treatment, at least six or seven of those people are opioid addicted,” Brown said.

Brown said opioids often lead to harder drugs and other addictions.

“When these folks have been taking these different type opioids, which I just classify as pain medication, and when they finally can’t get it any more, then people turn to heroin,” he said. “They say it’s very inexpensive for them to have it, and that’s how they continue to have an addiction. We’re starting to see an increase (in heroin addiction), and it’s young adults.”

And, he said, the results are deadly, forcing medical and law enforcement leaders to focus on educating the public of the dangers of these drugs.

“In the Yazoo area, we have had two or three overdoses that have resulted in death. We’ve been doing a lot of things up there to create awareness like town hall meetings,” Brown said. “What we’re hoping we can do if we get this grant is be able to provide the first responders with Narcan to reverse the effects of the overdose and be able to provide a program of in and outpatient care for people suffering from addiction.”

Warren-Yazoo has signed memorandums of understanding with the city and Warren County allowing officers and sheriff’s deputies to be trained to diagnose an opioid overdose and administer Narcan, which an officer would carry in a single dose injection.

“If the person is not overdosing from the opioid, it will have no side effects on the person,” Brown said. “There is very little liability. The medication won’t hurt the individual. We want to be able to buy this medication through this grant, and give it to the sheriff’s department, the police department and the fire department.”

Vicksburg Fire Chief Charles Atkins said the city’s ambulances already carry the drug, which is administered intravenously.

Paramedic Capt. Willie Holt said the drug is administered intravenously because it reaches the system faster than an injection, which is the second preferred way. He said the drug can also be administrated as a nasal spray.

“You have to be careful when you administer it,” Holt said. “Sometimes patients wake up combative and disoriented. We’ve had them get mad at us because we interfered with their high.”

Pace and Armstrong said having officers trained to use the drug will help save lives.

“That’s something law enforcement and many in the medical profession have advocated for years,” Pace said. “It reverses the effect of a narcotic or synthetic narcotic. Many times, law enforcement comes upon an overdose victim before paramedics can arrive. If a narcotic such as the pain pills or heroin is involved, it can save a life.”

“We’re living in a very changing environment,” Armstrong said, “And if we’re going to be first responders to serve and protect, that’s just going to be another tool in our arsenal that we can use to save lives, and maybe we can get someone to seek help.

“I want to make sure all our people have had the correct amount of training and if there’s any refresher make sure they do that. I am glad to know there is something out there we can do to save a person’s life that otherwise might not live.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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