Name: Tasian Christine Arjes
From: La Crosse, WI
Addiction: From the Eyes of the Rescuer
It’s 3 A.M and the familiar sound of the pager startles me from my sleep again. I quickly jump up, grab my stuff, and run out to the ambulance. The sound of the sirens pierce my ears as we work to get to the scene as fast as possible. We have been paged for an overdose, CPR instructions given, once again. This page is unfortunately getting all too familiar to the crew, and it is taking its toll on everyone involved. We arrive on scene and begin to work to save the patient’s life. Compressions started, narcan given, an airway placed, an IV established, and still no pulse. We continue with compressions, give more narcan, and I can feel my heart racing as I look for any signs of life and response to the narcan. 20 minutes have come and gone with no change. I stand up, making eye contact with the terrified family, and leave the room to make the dreaded phone call. I dial medical control’s number and hear the line ring, it feels like hours pass before they answer, and then I give my report. When I hang up the phone I walk back in the room and say the words that haunt us all. “The doctor, (Medical Control), has directed us to stop resuscitation efforts due to no response.” I look up to see the family break down and the sound of them crying and screaming is one that is on replay in my mind. As we leave the scene in silence I know that this, and all the other overdose and addiction calls, will affect my partner and I for long to come.
I question often why we as a nation are dealing with an addiction crisis. It’s unfortunately a question that doesn’t have a proper answer. I question whether it is due to prescription pain medications, due to the deteriorating mental health of our nation, the poverty of our nation, or all of it combined. 81,230 overdose deaths occured in the United States between June 2019 and May 2020 and the numbers during the pandemic have only climbed higher and higher (Overdose Deaths Accelerating During COVID-19, 2020).
I think that one reason the addiction crisis persists is the lack of accessibility to treatment centers. Only 1 in 10 people who need treatment will receive the treatment that they need (Key Findings,2021). Along with the lack of access to treatment another large issue is the lack of training on addiction. Approximately 21 million people in the United States struggle with addiction but, only 1 in 4 doctors say they have received training in regards to addiction (Davidson, 2019). Even with the lack of training and lack of access there is yet another hurdle to get over, finances. There is a lot of variances in this between states and different insurances but throughout many states Medicaid does not cover residential treatment. Along with this only approximately 60 percent of employee health plans cover medication treatment (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
There are many reasons that there is an addiction crisis and I was hardly able to scratch the surface of all of the different reasons. No matter the reason for the addiction crisis this has a negative impact in so many people’s lives. The addiction will affect the individual who is suffering from the addiction but it will also affect everyone that they come in contact with, especially their family. According to Jenny, “It hurts just as bad watching someone you love waste away from addiction as it does from cancer. We lose them long before they die. Addiction changes them into strangers. Although they look like the person you love, they’re not the same at all,” (Rozzano, Lorelie).
Along with impacting families the addiction crisis affects society as a whole, the first responders and hospitals, police, community resources, and so many more. As an EMT I see first hand the effects of the addiction crisis on families, the individual, as well as myself and my coworkers. One of the hardest calls we have to go on is an overdose, and even someone who is withdrawing from their addicted substance. Seeing the individual in pain, the family in pain, and their sorrows echoing throughout the room are images and sounds that are engraved in my brain. Along with the negative effects to our mentality the increase in calls for those undergoing addiction adds to the growing call volume and dwindles resources down and takes them away from other emergencies. This is taking away resources from first responders, to doctors, to police officers, and more. This is also taking a toll on the mental health of providers. The sleepless nights where all I hear is the screams from the families, when I wake up in cold sweats due to having a flashback to every life taken from this horrible disease. **I want to place a disclaimer that if you are in a position where someone you know needs 911 for whatever reasons, overdose, withdrawal, or anything else, never hesitate to call. We will always be there for everyone who needs us regardless.**
Creating a solution for the addiction crisis is not a one size fits all answer. There are going to be many things that need to be implemented, changed, and more. One large thing is the access to addiction recovery units and support. I know many of my patients who overdose and are able to talk tell me they want to quit, those who I see due to withdrawal symptoms want to quit, they just need more support and resources. The inpatient treatment needs more insurance support as well as lower costs for those without insurance and easier access to the service. With the increase in treatment options this will mean that medical providers need to be provided with the necessary training for addiction treatment. This is regardless of what specialty they are in, all medical professionals need this training.
Along with treatment options we need to make sure we have resources for post-treatment counseling so those who are recovered can stay on the same path. We need to have secondary resources so the recovered can find jobs, housing, and have food and clothes. If we aren’t able to support them and help them after their addiction then it is going to be a never ending cycle.
As an EMT I want to do everything I can to end the addiction crisis. This crisis is taking a toll on so many people every second of the day and it is time to change. I know that we have the power to turn this around, create the needed resources, and help out those who have wandered down the wrong path and guide them back on the road to recovery.
Davidson, Caroline, et al. “OPPORTUNITIES TO INCREASE SCREENING AND TREATMENT OF OPIOID USE DISORDER AMONG HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS.” Rize Massachusetts , 2019, www.rizema.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/GE-Rize-Shatterproof-White-Paper-Final.pdf.
“Key Findings: Early Intervention, Treatment, and Management of Substance Use Disorders.” Key Findings: Early Intervention, Treatment, and Management of Substance Use Disorders | Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, Surgeon General , 2021, www.addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/key-findings/early-intervention.
“Overdose Deaths Accelerating During COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Dec. 2020, www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/p1218-overdose-deaths-covid-19.html.
Rozzano, Lorelie. “What It’s Like To Love Someone Struggling With Addiction.” Vertava Health, 6 Jan. 2020.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); Office of the Surgeon General (US). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services; 2016 Nov. CHAPTER 6, HEALTH CARE SYSTEMS AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424848/