For the second year in a row, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Since 2012, more people died from overdoses in the state than in car accidents, homicides, or suicides.
But now a new law in the state is giving the public access to a drug that can save people who are overdosing - and it's the same drug that emergency responders have used for years to save thousands of lives.
Washington County/Johnson City EMS gets 31,000 calls per year, and many emergency responders are dispatched to handle opioid overdoses. "They're altered, they're awake, or they're completely unconscious. And I've had them as low as respirations of 4 times a minute," Brad Gerfin, operations manager, says.
Gerfin says patients need to be injected with Naloxone, or Narcan. The drug immediately reverses the effects of opioids, allowing time to get to the hospital for treatment.
A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed Narcan saved 10,000 overdose patients. Gerfin sees accidental and purposeful overdoses, but either way, he says its an epidemic.
Dr. Randall Jessee from Frontier Health says people mix drugs without knowing how powerful they are. "You take those kinds of substances, and without knowledge, you're going to be in trouble really fast," he says.
The problem is that accessing these substances is easier than you'd think. "76 percent of individuals who take opioids, prescription opioids, get them from a family member or a friend out of a medicine cabinet," Jessee says.
But now emergency responders aren't the only people who can administer Narcan. As of July 1, doctors in Tennessee can prescribe it.
Gerfin says people need to be careful, considering misusing the drug can cause combative behavior and even seizures. "Make sure you get the training, make sure you do your research to know how to give it, and, you know, you have to be very very careful with it," he says.