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Md. EMS program combats repeat substance abuse calls

Baltimore responders team up with Johns Hopkins to train medics to better engage with substance abuse callers in an attempt to slow down the 911 merry-go-round

Johns Hopkins Gazette

BALTIMORE, Md. — EMS Capt. Jonathan Brooks says the nature of most substance use–related responses varies little. Just swap a detail here or there, and the drug of choice. A bystander or friend phones 911 to report a person unconscious or otherwise unresponsive on a sidewalk, in an alley, or slumped in a stairwell. In such dark moments, one can't afford the luxury of dignity.

Brooks, a 14-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services Division, says that by the time paramedics arrive, the scene often has been "sanitized," meaning an acquaintance of the victim has thrown away any physical evidence of the root transgression, such as spoons, cotton balls, or other "tools" in the case of a heroin user. Not in a position to judge, the paramedics will perform a routine assessment to check the patient's airways and vitals, and address any acute conditions. If there's evidence of respiratory distress, the paramedics will administer Naloxone to counter the effects of what is likely an opiate overdose. Once stabilized and alert, the individual is taken to a nearby hospital emergency room, where, within hours, he usually gets released.

But the story seldom ends there. A week, a day, or even hours later, the most severely addicted typically wind up back on the street to prompt another 911 call and ER visit.

Read full story: Johns Hopkins pilots study on EMS treatment of substance abusers

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