How Lexington's paramedicine team works to prevent overdose deaths

Lexington's paramedicine team
Posted at 8:29 AM, Apr 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-03 08:29:06-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Overdose deaths in Kentucky increased by 55% between 2019 and 2021. That's one of the biggest spikes in the nation, according to data from the CDC.

A team of six Lexington social workers, firefighters, and one LPD detectove have been battling day in and day out to prevent these deaths. It's called the community paramedicine team.

Funded by state and local grants, the team checks in on people in Lexington who have overdosed 24-72 hours after it happened.

LFD Captain Seth Lockard said the reason for going during that time period is because if they go too soon, they are potentially dealing with withdrawal symptoms, and if they go too late, they may have reverted back to their behaviors. He said 24-72 hours after is the time when the overdose is fresh on their minds and they are able to discuss it.

Sometimes, when the team goes door-to-door, no one is home so they leave a resource packet with their business cards.

Other times, a family member answers the door.

"I'm very very thankful," Alan, a man whose family member overdosed, said.

He said he was the one who called 9-1-1 to get help for his family member, and he was shocked when the paramedicine team followed up the next day.

"You have two doses in here," Ken Howell, LFD firefighter/ paramedic who is on the team, said when describing to Alan how to use Narcan. "You're going to administer this and it's very very similar to nasal spray."

Alan learned how to use Narcan in case his loved one overdoses in the future. He also learned about new treatment programs in the city

"I know sometimes people are hesitant when they've been many many times but there's new options out there probably since the last time he's been," social worker and Lexington overdose outreach project case manager, Mackenzie Gross, said to Alan.

Alan is heartbroken for his family member but thankful for the support.

Lexington community paramedicine team

"It's tough," Gross said. "It's tough to see family members like that in those situations."

"I feel like we made a lot of progress with him," Howell said about Alan. "If anything, he realizes that the community, there are resources out there that care"

Getting people into treatment is the ultimate goal, but if they aren't ready, they focus on harm reduction like giving out Narcan and referring them to the Health Department's syringe service program if need be.

"If you ever need any more Narcan or anything like that, go ahead and give us a call on that number," Howell said to a family member of an overdose victim. "I'd be more than happy to come by, drop more off, talk to you all, see how else the fire department can help. You take care. Have a good one."

"It takes time to build that trust and you try to build up a relationship for someone to start engaging back with us," Gross said. "We're more than willing to come out here and meet with someone as many times as they want us to."

Ultimately, they say it's the person who overdosed who must choose to make a change.

They say some have.

"Some individuals will reach out months later when you haven't heard from them and just want to let you know that they're still doing well and they're still successful," Gross said.

But for those who aren't quite ready yet, the Lexington paramedicine team will be there to help when they are.

"This program's innovative and it works and the community is better off with it, patients are better off with it," Howell said. "Even if it's not affecting you as an individual that we are reaching out to, with this program in Fayette County, everyone benefits from it and I'm glad to be a part of it and I just want to see it grow."

The social workers on the team are funded by a federal grant called COSSAP, or the Comprehensive Opioid Stimulant Substance Abuse Program.

The firefighter/paramedics are funded by Kentucky's CORE grant, which is an opioid response effort grant through the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.