Greenville fire chief warns of opioid danger following rash of overdoses

Greenville Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Griffin speaks to reporters Friday, July 21 following a rash of overdoses in a 24-hour period in that city. (Stephanie Brown/NewsChannel 12)

GREENVILLE, Pitt County - Following seven overdoses in a 24-hour span, one of which that led to a death, Greenville Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Griffin spoke at a press conference Friday morning highlighting the urgency with which the opioid epidemic is having upon the community.

Griffin noted in each of the seven cases between Wednesday and Thursday, first responders provided Narcan in the field to counteract the opioid overdose. Griffin said his department has seen a 23 percent increase in overdoses since 2014.

Additionally, Griffin said, the drugs being used have become more resistant to the Narcan, so first responders are having to use 2 to 3 times as much of the drug to counteract the effects of the overdose.

"it's taken more resources to provide this care," he said.

Griffin said the department has responded to 158 overdoses in 2017 as of June 30, compared to 134 at the same time in 2016. Griffin noted that not all the overdoses are opioid related, though a fair share have been. That amounts to nearly one or two overdoses each day, he said. Not all calls come in as overdoses either, he said - sometimes people won't want to admit to taking the drug and so callers will report the person as passed out or unresponsive.

GFR spokesperson Rebekah Thurston said each rescue unit stocks Narcan.

"We are here to help you, not get you in trouble," Thurston said of the importance of calling 911 if an overdose is suspected. Opioids, Griffin said, cause respiratory depression, meaning a person can be not breathing but still have a heartbeat. The opioid crisis has affected nearly every portion of the community irrespective of race, social class and gender. He did say, however, that the overdose group with the greatest share of overdoses in Greenville has been 22- to 32-year-olds.

Ethan Buck, 20, is preparing to join the board of the Pitt County Coalition of Substance Abuse. He comes from a unique place, however, as a recovering addict who is closing in on two years of sobriety.

" I started using at a young age - I think I was like 12 - and I basically progressed to the point where I was using heroin on a semi-daily basis," Buck told NewsChannel 12.

Having lived through the horrors of addiction himself, Buck knows how important it is to have resources and outreach in place to help curb the growing epidemic.

We're really seeing an evolution of things, technologies are getting better the drugs are getting stronger. And we're seeing those drugs influence our society in a way that we've never seen before," he said. " That was a big thing that made me decide to help people is I feel like I can offer something that most people can't."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid overdoses killed more than 33,000 people nationally in 2015, the highest year on record. Overdose deaths have quadrupled nationally in the last 15 years, according to CDC data.

In North Carolina, there were 1,110 deaths tied to opioid overdoses in 2015 - the latest year for which data is available. That was a 73 percent increase from 10 years earlier.