How the Lexington Paramedic Team Works to Prevent Overdose Deaths

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) – Overdose deaths in Kentucky increased 55% between 2019 and 2021. That’s one of the biggest spikes in the country, according to CDC data.

A team of six Lexington social workers, firefighters and an LPD detective fought day in and day out to prevent these deaths. This is called the Community Paramedic Team.

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

LFD captain Seth Lockard said the reason for leaving during this time was that if they went too early they potentially faced withdrawal symptoms, and if they went too late they could resumed their behavior. He said 24 to 72 hours later is when the overdose is fresh in their minds and they can discuss it.

Sometimes when the team is going 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 grateful,” said Alan, a man whose family member overdosed.

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

“You have two doses here,” Ken Howell, an LFD firefighter/paramedic who is part of the team, said when describing to Alan how to use Narcan. “You’re going to administer this and it’s very very similar to a nasal spray.”

Alan learned to use Narcan in case his loved one overdosed in the future. He also discovered new treatment programs in the city

“I know sometimes people get hesitant when they’ve been there a few times, but there’s probably new options since the last time he came,” said Mackenzie Gross, social worker and Overdose Awareness Project Manager. from Lexington, to Alan.

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

Kristen Edwards

“It’s tough,” Gross said. “It’s hard to see family members like that in these situations.”

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

Getting people into treatment is the end goal, but if they’re not ready, they focus on harm reduction, like giving Narcan and referring them to the Department of Health’s syringe service program if necessary.

“If you ever need more Narcan or anything, just go ahead and call us on this number,” Howell told a family member of an overdose victim. “I would be more than happy to drop by, drop off more, talk to you all, see how the firefighters can help you. Take care. Have a great time.”

“It takes time to build that trust and you try to build a relationship to get someone to start engaging with us again,” Gross said. “We are more than willing to come here and meet anyone as many times as they want.”

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

They say some have.

“Some people will contact you months later when you haven’t heard from them and just want to let you know that they’re still doing well and still doing well,” Gross said.

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

“This program is innovative and it works and the community is better off, the patients are better off,” Howell said. “Even if it doesn’t affect you as an individual that we’re reaching out to, with this program in Fayette County everyone benefits and I’m happy to be a part of it and just want to see it grow. “

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

Firefighters/Paramedics are funded by the Kentucky CORE Grant, which is an Opioid Response Effort Grant through the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental, and Intellectual Disabilities.

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