Saving an addict: Stopping the overdose in its tracks

Narcan credited with saving more than 120 local lives, officials say

ORLANDO, Fla. – As the opioid crisis in the nation continues to worsen, law enforcement agencies around the country are looking for ways to combat the problem -- and save lives.

Lives like that of a 23-year-old Orange County woman we'll call Susie, a woman in too deep in the world of drugs, and her mother, desperately fighting for her life.

For them, it's no longer about prevention, it's about preparing for Susie's next bad batch, something she's experienced several times before.

"We laid her there and she flat-lined," said Orange County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Bryan James, recounting the moments he saved Susie's life in front of the Orange County Jail.

News 6 happened to have a crew there that day when a man pulled up to the jail, screaming for help for a woman in his car. Her lips were blue as ice, her breath was silent and her pulse barely there.

That is until James brought her back to life in a movie-like moment.

"I don't know if anybody has seen the movie Pulp Fiction, but it was like that," said James, referring to what happened when he used the overdose reversal drug Nalaxone, also known as Narcan, on Susie.

"I knew I had the tools to help this person and I didn't have to watch someone perish," said James.

It was a moment Susie's mom is thankful for today.

"Narcan saved her life," said Susie's mom.

She said when it happened, she was surprised because Susie had been doing better after getting out of jail in June. Susie had been arrested in January for possession of heroin, paraphernalia and prostitution.

"She had been doing phenomenal, she was doing exactly what she was supposed to. I know for a fact that was the first day she had (been) picked up, she had six months clean time under her belt," Susie's mom said.

She knew her daughter had overdosed before, but had never seen it for herself.

"I think I was numb for a full 24 hours. Just to see it, it was traumatizing to me, my child was deceased for a moment," Susie's mom said. "It was startling and it was numbing and it was scary, especially when she sat right up."

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But it wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last. It's a battle this mother has fought with Susie for nearly a decade. In 2012, she went on Anderson Cooper's talk show with Susie and her sister trying, even then, to break their addictions. But Susie never followed through with rehab, and is still addicted to heroin today.

Her mom said eight days after the overdose we caught on camera, Susie overdosed again, and once again, Narcan saved her life.

"She wants to do good, she wants be an active member of society, she wants to be normal, but there is this monkey on her back," Susie's mom said. "I mean, this is a real problem and people need to open their eyes to it and stop being so judgmental. There needs to be more facilities that can take in these people. They don't want to be addicts, they don't want to use, they do it because they can't stop. It's a disease and in this county, there are not enough help for people without insurance."

Both times Susie was saved, the Narcan was thanks to government resources.

Orange County officials gave 900 units of Narcan to law enforcement and EMS last year. The price tag is about $25,000. It's already credited with saving more than 120 lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, government agencies have been stocking up on Narcan for the last two decades, but didn't really need it until recent years.

The latest study from 2015 shows the number of organizations providing Narcan increased by 183 percent, saving more than 26,000 lives.

And the epidemic has only gotten worse since that study.

In Orange County alone, overdoses have gone up 71 percent just in the last year.

That's why CDC officials want more than just police officers getting Narcan in their hands; they want users and loved ones to get it, too.

What you might not even know is in 41 states, including here in Florida, you can just walk up to a pharmacist and get Narcan yourself. The pharmacist will go in the back and get it -- you don't need a prescription, you won't get in trouble and in most cases, your insurance may even cover it.

"It's relatively cheap. The intermuscular injection is about $45, the nasal spray is $110," said Michelle Bermudez, of CVS Health. "CVS Health wanted to provide Naloxone to more patients to save lives. We wanted to give those patients a second chance at getting the recovery they need."

But there are critics out there who say Narcan is not a savior -- instead, it's an enabler.

These were just some of the comments posted on social media News 6's initial story on Susie's overdose.

"Let her overdose..." "...should not be spending taxpayer money and resources reviving these people..." "...only problem is she'll do it again tomorrow..."

We took these comments to the director of the Sunrise Detox Center, Dennis Koleda.

"I don't want to use this word, but I would say it's ignorance," said Koleda. He said addiction equals disease, and addicts need help.

"When you are waking up every day and you need something to function that is an addiction and that's a disease," said Koleda. "No matter if there is Narcan available or not, they are going to push to the limit of it because that's what their disease tells them what to do. If your son or daughter overdosed, would you want them to have something easily accessible to bring them back to life or would you just want them to die?"

For Susie's mom, the answer is no.

She now has Narcan at home for her daughter just in case-- but hopes Susie will be able to make sobriety permanent.

"Being realistic, there has been so many things I tried for her, and we can line up 10 rehabs for her, but until she is ready to work a program and work on her self-image -- she just has to work for herself -- until she is ready to do that, she's not going to stop using," Susie's mom said. "She's got to fend for herself and honestly, she should be fending for herself if she wants to use but she does still show up. I don't give her money or anything other than letting her take a shower and eat something, but she doesn't run my life like she once did. I'm sad when she is out there because I don't know what's happening but it's a relief that I have my own life. It's very unnatural to want to push your child away for your own sanity. I had no idea how many people are going through this, it's kind of like silent -- you kind of suffer in silence. I don't keep it a secret and that helps me make it through my days. You just try to have a glimmer of hope, but it's diminishing. It's up to her."

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