An Ohio city is considering whether dispatchers should send ambulances to every overdose call they get, after the number of overdoses this year has already exceeded last year's total.
Dan Picard, a Middletown city councilman, proposed a "three strikes" limit for opioid addicts after the number of overdoses jumped from 532 last year to 577 so far this year, including 51 deaths, compared to 74 in all of 2016, reported the Journal-News.
“I want to send a message to the world that you don’t want to come to Middletown to overdose because someone might not come with Narcan and save your life,” Picard said. “We need to put a fear about overdosing in Middletown.”
The 61-year-old Picard, who isn't seeking re-election, suggested issuing a court summons to overdose victims and require them to complete community service to work off the cost of their emergency medical services call and a dose of the life-saving Narcan drug.
If they fail to do so following two overdoses, 911 dispatchers could refuse to send help on their third call.
"If the dispatcher determines that the person who's overdosed is someone who's been part of the program for two previous overdoses and has not completed the community service and has not cooperated in the program, then we wouldn't dispatch,” Picard told WLWT-TV.
The city councilman pointed out that cancer patients don't get free chemotherapy, and he said patients suffering heart attacks don't get free bypass surgery on an EMS run.
The city budgeted $10,000 this year for Narcan, which revives overdose patients, but is on pace to spend $100,000 on the drug.
The fire chief said he understood Picard's frustration, but the state law requires first responders to administer Narcan to overdose patients, and he pointed out that medics took an oath to care for those who are hurt, sick or injured -- regardless of the cost.
“This is our standing order,” said Fire Chief Paul Lolli. “Our guys operate under standing orders and protocols set by the medical director. Unless directed otherwise, that’s what we have to do.”
First responders in southwest Ohio, which has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, are suffering compassion fatigue from the frequency of overdose calls, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"The situations that we're coming upon have not been dealt with before," said Lt. John Williams, of the Cincinnati Fire Department.
First responders are themselves in danger from overdosing on powerful synthetic opioids they may come into contact with, and they must remain hyper-vigilant about blood spatter and needle sticks to avoid hepatitis C and other blood-borne illness.
The state's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse received $26 million in grant money, and some of that money will go toward helping first responders deal with the trauma they experience on the job.
Picard admits his proposal wouldn't solve the city's drug problem.
"We've got to do what we've got to do to maintain our financial security, and this is just costing us too much money," Picard said.
The fire department is applying for grants and accepting donations to pay for Narcan.
The city manager declined to comment on Picard's proposal until the city's legal department could review it.