WASHINGTON - Fire departments across the DC region are seeing record-high numbers of opioid overdoses. First responders are on the front line of the crisis, saving lives of drug abusers every day. The medication they're using to do that doesn't come cheap, and it's costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars across D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
Naloxone is the medication that is used to revive opioid abusers who have overdosed and are struggling to breath. "Narcan" is its most common brand name.
The cost of naloxone has more than doubled in recent years, and has now risen to about $30 a dose. Sometimes multiple doses are necessary to revive a patient.
As the drug has gotten more expensive, rates of use have continued to rise for area fire departments. Fairfax County averages nearly 60 cases per month, Montgomery County about 70 cases, Prince George's County nearly 100 cases, and in D.C., an average of 260 cases per month.
In D.C. alone, costs for naloxone are averaging more than $100,000 a year.
D.C. EMS Supervisor Mark St. Laurent calls it an "epidemic," and says paramedics aren't just dealing with heroin users.
"Some of the problems that we're starting to encounter is individuals who have surgeries, individuals who had regular medical conditions due to chronic pain ailments, that those medications are getting mixed with other medications and they're actually creating issues," St. Laurent said. "And we're seeing them as overdoses."
He says paramedics are going to overdoses in all types of neighborhoods. Some patients are homeless, others are high-ranking government employees.
Firefighters can face anger when a patient realizes they kept their life, but lost their high.
"And many times they are actually very abusive to the crews," St. Laurent said.