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Creason: Prescription drugs lead abuse



BY SHELLEY BYRNE sbyrne@mayfield-messenger.com

Mayfield Fire & EMS Chief Jeremy Creason called it a snapshot of what he and his crews deal with in emergency medical services, but it was also an eye-opener for members of the Graves County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy/Prevention.

Creason talked about drug abuse and attempted suicides in Graves County during Friday's Graves County ASAP meeting.

Dispatch records from 911 showed Mayfield Fire & EMS responded to 178 emergency calls that were in some way drug-related in 2017, Creason said.

That averages three per week.

"Jackson Purchase (Medical Center) has even more walk-ins," Creason said.

Mayfield Fire & EMS also responded to 160 calls for attempted suicides in 2017, he said. Many of those were drug overdose calls, he said.

Creason said, in his opinion, prescription medications are by far the most abused drug in Graves County.

"That's what the bulk of our overdoses are from," Creason said, adding that the tolerance some people build up to the medications is incredible. "I've seen people who take 15 or 20 (pills) a day, and they function."

Statistics also show the depth of the prescription drug epidemic, said Lauren Carr, Graves County ASAP project coordinator. The Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) report from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services showed more than 789,000 dosage units of opioid medications prescribed for Graves County residents from October through December 2017 alone. In the same period, more than 433,000 hydrocodone doses alone were prescribed.

Amid questions of how to target responses to the problem, Creason said it is difficult to pinpoint a population most affected. "Economic status has nothing to do with it," he said. "We're in every neighborhood, treating those issues. Race and ethnicity has nothing to do with it."

When it comes to illegal drugs, Creason said methamphetamine is still a bigger problem in Graves County than other substances. Although heroin is a large problem in other parts of the state, it is just beginning to creep in, he said. He attributed that to users choosing the cheaper high they get from meth compared to heroin as well as easy access to anhydrous ammonia and having a large, rural county in which it is easier to hide meth labs.

Both meth and heroin users tend to use needles, and evidence of their use is obvious if you know where to look, Creason said.

"In Mayfield, especially, in an abandoned house, probably eight of 10 times there are needles in the floor," he said, adding that the city's efforts to demolish abandoned houses helps remedy the problem.

"Nothing good goes on in an abandoned house," he said. "You'll see just a trail of needles. They're in every corner."

The problem has gotten so bad that the city has issued puncture-resistant gloves to public works employees for cleaning out storm sewers, to avoid pricks from needles thrown down them.

Synthetic drugs, including synthetic marijuana, as well as cocaine still remain a problem, he said.

As a result of heroin and fentanyl abuse beginning to spread in Graves County, emergency medical technicians are carrying more Narcan, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an overdose. Creason cautioned that Narcan is not a solution to the problem of opioid abuse, however, and can cause other medical problems for patients coming off a high, including nausea and seizures.

Some agencies in other parts of Kentucky are seeing 12 to 15 patients overdosing on opioids, including heroin, in a 12-hour shift, Creason said.

"It is pretty evident that we're set up for a perfect storm," he said. "It doesn't take much for what happened in northern Kentucky or Louisville to happen here."

Creason also praised Graves County ASAP, saying he believes prevention efforts are making a difference in Graves County.